Organizational Dynamics Working Papers

Valuing Our Food: Minimizing Waste and Optimizing Resources-The Scope and Significance of the Global Food Waste Problem

Steven M. Finn, University of Pennsylvania

Document Type Working Paper

Working Paper #13-02


The magnitude of the global food waste problem is staggering, yet it receives little mainstream attention. We waste nearly half of all food produced – more than one billion tons of food annually across the globe – and yet nearly a billion people throughout the world are hungry. We don’t seem to grasp the significance (indeed, the audacity) of wasting such enormous quantities of food when 1 in 8 people are hungry – nor do we fully recognize the negative environmental impact of all of that wasted food. Fossil fuels and precious metals garner much attention due to their finite nature and commodity status, yet our critical and fragile food system – which consumes massive amounts of resources annually while generating equally massive amounts of waste – receives much less attention despite the fact that food is central to life. Our values are out of balance. Quite simply, we need to value our food to a much greater degree, we need to address the shortcomings of our food system in order to minimize food losses from field to fork, and – when excess food exists – we need effective partnerships to capture it for productive use.

Food waste at any significant level is unconscionable. Change is needed at all levels of society – and all around the globe – and that change begins with heightened awareness and a sense of responsibility to people and planet.

Feeding 9 billion people by 2050 is a tremendous challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity to develop new levels of innovation and collaboration to eradicate hunger, improve the environment for future generations, and create a more unified, secure world. Reducing food waste in both developed and less-developed countries is a step in that direction, representing a sizeable opportunity to feed the world’s hungry today as well as the additional 2 billion expected by 2050 while simultaneously improving the environment for future generations.

A new, durable, multi-faceted approach to reducing food waste is needed in the form of a global network. This global network should be anchored by a sense of shared responsibility among consumers, businesses, governments, and global institutions to optimize resources in the quest to provide for 9 billion people by 2050. This global network should recognize the opportunities that the 9 billion by 2050 problem provides, and it should operate with extreme urgency. Everyone on the planet has a role to play in the effort to reduce food waste; and everyone has a responsibility to play it.


Date Posted: 06 November 2013