Nowadays, it has become a heartless fashion to waste food when people sit together in a luxury restaurant to have their meals. Sometimes it feels as though eating one's meal in full was unsophisticated and unfashionable.
Food wastage has become rather commonplace in today's restaurant culture. What happens next is that the leftovers, although completely edible, land in the trash.
But food wastage probably manifests in its worst form during social gatherings like weddings, reunions, or birthday parties. From organisers to participants, it seems everyone reluctantly shrugs over the huge volume of food being wasted that could have fed hundreds of people. This is a cruel fashion that is scarcely noticed.
Why does this happen? I assume that everybody knows the answer. Societal behaviour, in most cases, is often driven by so-called trends that have no legal or moral foundation nor do they benefit the mass people in any way.
This is overwhelmingly true in the case of food waste and our quotidian yet unnecessary extravagance. I wonder if today's consumers find it fashionable to eat some food and leave some of it on plates! I wonder what led them to think that it was okay not to eat the whole food served? Regardless of the motivation, most of these valuable food items end up in the trash.
This is equally true for water bottles. Quite frequently, people buy a bottle of drinking water and after having one or two sips, they just leave it on the table or throw it away. That means almost two-thirds of the water in the bottle is wasted. These practices have become so deeply embedded in our habits that we rarely take notice of the massive loss, thanks to our careless consumerism.
It is difficult to gauge the social and economic costs of food waste. But let's look at some statistics. A report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) from 2015 reveals that the cost of global food waste is $2.6 trillion per annum.
In addition, this staggering amount of wastage of food and water makes up an environmental loss of up to $700 billion per year. The monetary loss of society due to this evil fashion is equally horrifying. The same report claims that global society loses up to $900 billion every year.
A study titled 'The State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World 2020' reports that approximately 690 million people around the world go to bed on an empty stomach each night. That means globally 8.9% of people suffer from hunger.
Slowly yet painfully, this rate of hunger is escalating and it is anticipated to exceed 840 million by 2030. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc in many resource-poor countries where hunger and malnutrition are spreading their tentacles rapidly and alarmingly.
If the current practice goes unchanged, global food production must increase by 60% by 2050 to meet the spiralling demand which will adversely affect the natural environment and biodiversity. As all bad things do, the consequence of food fashion affects developing countries disproportionately more than their developed counterparts.
If we deep dive into the Food Wastage Footprint (FWF) analysis, a bleak and painful scenario appears. The FWF is high due to a massive loss of food for a wide range of factors that occurs at different stages like harvesting, transportation, storing, and consumption levels. We cannot fully control some damages during the harvesting or transportation period which will add a negative edge to the existing level of ballooning loss.
Moreover, responsible consumption is one of the 17 goals to be achieved by 2030 under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). With the mounting depletion of natural resources - both in quality and quantity thanks to unscrupulous human interventions - mere development efforts are not enough.
Instead, sustainable and eco-friendly development is cherished. In line with this, the four relevant goals, i.e., 1, 2, 3, and 12 in SDGs laid strong emphasis on food production, the end of poverty, and the eradication of hunger through responsible consumption and necessary production.
In this spirit, goal 12 of SDGs titled 'Responsible Consumption and Production' is highly critical to our quotidian food habits. On the one hand, this goal guides us to responsibly use our natural resources like water or soil. On the other hand, it instils a lesson to consume our regular food and beverage sensibly without making waste.
If we can minimise food wastage at least at the consumer level, we can surely reduce the wastage of food which will ultimately help to produce less. Less production means reduced stress on resources like land and water which is conducive to the environment.
So, an intricate chain exists among consumers, the natural environment, and the extent of production. Eventually, controlling the leakages of food waste at the consumers' end will benefit not just millions of hungry people around the globe but also the natural environment which will ultimately ease the attainment of sustainable development goals.
Shahadat Hussein studied Development Policy at Cornell University, USA.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.