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Feeding 7 billion: trick or treat?

Michelle Fuhrman | Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oct. 31, 2011, was a scary day, and not just because Frankenstein and Big Foot were running around on campus. This Halloween, the world population hit 7 billion people, a milestone that has generated increasing concern about how our world can provide the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter and energy for more and more people. So just how fast is the world population growing? In 1900, the world had 1.6 billion people, and 99 years later, that number had grown to 6.1 billion. It is projected that by 2025, when current Notre Dame students are 32-36 years old, the world population will hit 8 billion, and that is a lot of mouths to feed.

What’s the big deal with feeding 7 billion people? We’re all vaguely aware that not everyone can just walk into North or South Dining Hall and have a smorgasbord of delicious and nutritional food available. World hunger is one of the major complex issues facing our society today. In 2010, one in seven people, or 925 million people total, experienced chronic, lasting hunger, and the sad part is that there is currently enough food being produced worldwide to feed all 7 billion of us. The challenge lies in making the food accessible to people from both an economic and logistics standpoint.

Part of the problem is that 3 billion people live on $2 or less per day to pay for living expenses, and with rising food prices, it is becoming increasingly difficult for these people to access food. The unstable world economy and unhealthy job market are adding to the poverty problem.

Another part of the problem is waste. Did you know that only 25 percent of all food produced is actually eaten? The other 75 percent goes unused in a variety of ways, ranging from weather and crop deterioration, spoilage from transportation and holding issues, food processing plants, grocery store matters (especially with shelf life, expiration dates and the appearance of particular foods), restaurants and others. Think about the last time you went to a restaurant. How many people in your party actually “cleaned their plate?” Did you all take home your leftovers? Now think about how many people dine out every day, and how much food is wasted.

Let’s look at another more industrial example. Consider going to the grocery store to buy apples. When thinking of an apple, a picture of a bright red, sweet, fresh and juicy fruit likely comes to mind, but a small percentage of all apples grown match this perfect image in consumers’ minds. To meet customer expectations, undesirable apples are removed at various stages between the orchard and consumer, including in the orchard itself, after initial transportation to a warehouse, once food arrives at grocery stores and even when the apples are placed on the shelf. Grocery stores can reject entire batches of apples if they do not think they are up to par.

Jonathan Bloom is the author of “American Wasteland,” which has mind-blowing statistics and images in regards to how much food we waste just in the United States alone. For example, remember the disastrous oil spill that occurred last year in the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well? As much of a catastrophe as the Gulf spill was, every year, we waste 70 times the amount of oil that surged into the ocean from this tragedy just by wasting food, which required a huge amount of energy to grow and transport. Where are the newspaper headlines and CNN Special Reports bringing this issue into the spotlight?

We have the opportunity to bring this issue to light here at Notre Dame by participating in Waste Free Wednesdays, Grab and Give drives, Wednesday Lunch Fast and by simply putting on our plate only what we plan to eat. There are 7 billion people and counting in this world, and while the numbers may be frightening, they cannot be avoided. Let’s try to be aware of how our daily decisions have the potential to impact other people and drive change.

Email your predicaments to The GreenMan at askthegreenman@gmail.com and let him answer you with a sustainable twist. The GreenMan will be here every other week to provide you with insights you never knew you were missing out on until now.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.