there's too much food in the world

Why There’s Too Much Food in the World.

Gavin Wren Food Education, Writing

Seriously. There’s waaayyyyy too much.

Today I’m looking at the global supply of food and how there is too much food in the world. I’m going to tell you some of the figures around the global food supply. Often these numbers get hidden away in academic journals and books which are only marginally easier to read than the Tibetan Book of the Dead when you don’t speak Tibetan. I want to explain them in an easier, understandable way, so that people can begin to understand why the world of food is not a simple place to be.

You Keep on Chucking it in the Bin.

There’s a lot of focus on food waste at the moment. The mainstream press and media has made us acutely aware that a lot of food is destroyed, simply thrown away. Some of it doesn’t even reach the supermarket due to it’s wonkiness. Food which does get to the shops is often chucked out because of that devious little date on the front, the ‘best before’ date. When food gets to our homes and is tucked away in fridges and cupboards, eventually even more gets wasted, because we buy too much.

Best After.

‘Best’ before dates are a confusing use of the English language when you stop and consider the terminology. Taken literally, they say when the produce is at it’s best. This presents a problem, because food is perfectly useable at many other periods throughout it’s lifecycle, including the points when it is not at it’s ‘best’.

Wonky veg stole the headlines earlier this year when some high profile celebrity chefs threw their weight behind the cause, demonstrating how and why food gets thrown away. Since then, supermarkets have started selling wonky veg, often having their shelves swiftly cleared by wonk-hungry shoppers who realise that beauty is on the inside. On an aesthetic level, wonky veg could be described as not being at it’s best. That’s why these poor veggies had not made their way to the supermarket shelves in the past, because people believed that only perfectly formed vegetables are ‘best’.

As the public perception changes around what vegetables are ‘best’, perhaps our understanding of what ‘best before’ means will change as well. It’s an administrative get-out clause to protect supermarkets from having their asses sued if you eat a mouldy potato then felt a bit queasy. When they print that date on a packet, they don’t have a crystal ball that predicts the exact moment at which that cucumber has reached the pinnacle of it’s crunchy perfection. It’s no exact science, they’re simply saying “we think it will start to go downhill on this date”. There’s no way they can say with any certainty that the date they are printing is accurate. It’s simply a random place in the diary at which the food is perfectly useable.

Food waste is a travesty, unless that waste is put to good use. If it’s just going in the bin or to landfill then we’ve just wasted a massive slice of resources nurturing it from nothing, only to put it back into the ground again after moving it from farm to shop to house and back into the earth.

There’s Too Much Food in the World.

If we stopped wasting all that food in the world, there would be an oversupply. That’s one end of the scale, but what about the other end, the production end, where food is made?

Throughout the world we produce a lot of crops which are known as cereals. Not Coco-Pops or Golden Grahams, but crops like wheat, maize and rice. These are cornerstones of diets around the world, especially in poorer countries.

The total amount of these crops grown is a ridiculously large number with lots of zeros. I’m not going to work out how many Wembley Stadium’s or double decker bus loads it is, because even then the number will still be ridiculously large and incomprehensible. Suffice to say, it’s a lot.

All of these cereals contain calories. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight or paid any attention to your diet, calories are a unit of measurement you’ve probably come across. Weight watchers have made a fortune out of them. They are a basic way of working out whether humans are eating the right amount of food. They don’t take into account more delicate things like protein, nutrients and vitamins, but they do give us a great yardstick to work with.

It’s reckoned that we each need around 2,500 calories per day. That’s the approximate amount of calories a human being needs to live, breath and exist. Small people need less, big people need more. Active people need more, lazy people need less, but as a guide, 2,500 is a nice easy number to work with.

If you take the total number of calories in all of the cereal we produce every year, then divide it by the total population of the world, you’ll find there is enough cereal to feed every single person on the planet 2,500 calories, every single day of the year.

With plenty left over.

There’s actually around 25% more calories in the annual cereal crop than we need to feed every human being in the world.

World cereal production
more calories than needed to feed the population

That’s without considering the other calories available in foods that are grown, nurtured, bred or created around the world, like vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, milk, chocolate and Big Macs.

It’s Not Just Human Mouths to Feed.

The reason we have so many cereals is because most of them are fed to animals, not humans. When all those animals are fed and 40% of the corn grown in the USA is turned into biofuel, after 30% of the world’s fish catch is fed to livestock and we have simply thrown 30% of all food in the bin, there is still 2800 calories of food left, per person, per day.

Total food supply
calories per person

2800 calories for every one of the 7,300,000,000 people on the planet is enough to make us all a bit tubby around the waist. Which makes me wonder, if there’s so much food around, why are there people dying of hunger in the world?

That, my friend, is a good question.

Brain Food looks behind the stories we get told about food.

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