Jell-O mud-wrestling, egg-throwing contests and bowling with frozen turkeys may be recreation to some people but to a former missionary who has seen hunger firsthand, these games are not fun—they are wasteful.
One in 10 households in the United States is living with hunger or is at risk of hunger, while about 27 percent of America’s food gets thrown away. That means more than 300 pounds of food per person end up in the waste can every year.
In the United States, 31 million people, including 12 million children, live in households where people have to skip meals or eat less to preserve their limited food supply.
In other parts of the world, the issue of hunger is much more serious. According to statistics released by Bread for the World, a non-profit group lobbying against world hunger, more than 800 million people in the world go hungry. In developing countries, 6 million children die each year, mostly from hunger-related causes. More than 780 million people in the developing world are malnourished.
Yet Americans will deposit 21,380 million tons of food in landfills this year, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA estimates the disposal costs of food exceed $1 billion in local tax funds annually.
While Americans do not seem to be bothered by wasting food, Bill Cowley, a former Baptist Missionary to Nigeria, is deeply concerned about what it says to the world about Christian ethics.
“For some time my wife and I have noticed the disrespect for food not only in the overeating and the throwing away of food but in such things as the recreational use of food,” Cowley told EthicsDaily.com. “For example, there are all sorts of eating contests which reward on-the-spot gluttony.”
Hunger, Cowley said, is an important factor in decreasing the world’s stability.
“Hunger can produce violence and generate such jealousy as to promote lifelong hatred and distrust,” he said. “Those who experience hunger and malnutrition in the womb and in childhood grow up with physical, emotional, and mental problems which become the shared burdens of everyone with only the well-fed having enough material resources to be able to deal with the problem.”
Cowley said he believes churches can and should do something to feed their hungry brothers and sisters.
“Somehow, I have the feeling that good stewardship of food would result in the freeing up of resources which are presently being used to provide food to those who do not need it,” he said.
Churches, schools, businesses and communities are signing up with a new USDA effort to recover and redistribute food. Waste Not Want Not is a campaign that reduces waste by recovering unwanted food to feed the hungry. The campaign encourages businesses to donate extra food and for states and municipalities to formally build food donations into their waste reduction and prevention plans.
Non-perishable food and wholesome, unspoiled, perishable food can be donated to local food banks, soup kitchens and shelters. Local and national food recovery programs frequently offer free pick-up and provide reusable containers to donors.
Food unfit for human consumption can be converted in animal feed. However, converting excess human food into animal feed is not a new idea. Farmers of yesteryear fed hogs their food discards as part of their daily staples. Some companies are developing ways to recycle human foods that are not animal products into the feed.
Appropriate excess food may also be provided to zoos to feed select animals. The USDA says that excess food can be recovered and recycled for industrial purposes and composting to improve soil fertility.
Cowley admits that feeding the world is an ambitious task but if the necessary resources could “find their way into the international economic chain to feed the hungry. The amount of time, planning, and work to make this happen is unfathomable. But it is not impossible.”
Ray Furr is a freelance writer and operates his own communications / marketing business in Poquoson, Va.