Food waste is a bigger problem than we know

William Culbert

Almost a third of all food is wasted. A fifth of all fresh-water usage, landfill volume and cropland is lost to it. The wasted food could feed more than twice the hungry people of the world, two thirds of which live in conflict areas often driven by climate change.

Agriculture produces about a quarter of greenhouse gases that drive global warming and livestock production represents about two thirds of this with cattle being the biggest offender.

Regular beef eaters not only have a one-quarter increase in mortality over their cohorts that eat it rarely or occasionally, raising cattle contributes more than three times the greenhouse gases of the airline industry.

Many of the solutions already exist, but they are not widely appreciated and don’t receive the funding or other emphasis they need to be broadly implemented.

Bioengineered meat is real meat without the dead animal and the massive pollution. It is rapidly becoming cost competitive, but if the impact of global warming were considered in the calculus, it would already be the mainstay of the American diet. It is nutritionally healthier than conventional meat, has a longer shelf life, and carries little risk for contamination.

Milk production has about the same contribution to global warming as air travel, so if flying on a jet leaves you conflicted about its contribution to climate change, try drinking soy milk instead. It has about as much protein as cow’s milk and almond milk has as much calcium. Both have no cholesterol and negligible saturated fat.

A good meat source could be ground soldier beetles that are more nutritious than conventional meat and virtually free of contaminants with a fraction of the production time or contribution to global warming. It would look a lot like ground turkey.

Hemoglobin, as the oxygen-carrying protein of our red blood cells, represents the critical taste point in our preference for meat. It is now made by genetically engineered soybeans and can be experienced as “Impossible burger” available at my local grocery store. It still has a little too much sodium, but it is easily rinsed and is amenable to almost every dish using ground beef or turkey.

Some green leafy vegetables are already being grown indoors in urban areas on fabric without soil. The water source is purely aerosolized and recycled. The light source is diode and growing time is significantly shorter. Lettuce grown this way is more nutritious and has superior eye appeal than traditional sources. There are no herbicides or pesticides needed and there are no bacterial contaminants.

Supply chains for these products are much simpler and flexible and inherently generate less waste.

Ten to 100 thousand plant and animal species are becoming extinct each year, but if we were to lose just 80 specific bacterial and other microscopic species, soil production as we know it would end, potentially leading to the starvation death of tens of millions of people.

Living healthier now might be less about us as individuals than about keeping a planet we can survive on.

Physician William Culbert lives in Oak Ridge and has a practice in Clinton.

This article originally appeared on Oakridger: Food waste is a bigger problem than we know