This is not an injustice that is limited to countries in the developing world. In America, up to 40 percent of food goes uneaten, while the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that 15.3 million children live in food insecure households.
The consequences of food waste do not stop there: It annually generates 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases worldwide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, and uses more than a quarter of the world’s available agricultural land, leading to the squandering of valuable fresh water and leaving a $750 billion black hole in the global economy.
The food we waste also risks exacerbating political tensions across the world. In fact, the World Economic Forum has warned that food shortages represent one of the biggest risks to global stability over the next decade as countries are increasingly affected by climate change.
For all these reasons and more, The Huffington Post is on Tuesday launching a campaign to highlight the scale of food waste, and more importantly, to work in collaboration with you, our audience, to reduce it.
The name of our campaign is "Reclaim," which means to recover what has been lost. In this context, it has a double meaning. Reclaiming the power of citizens to drive real change in society and reclaiming our love for food.
That means going beyond the 175,000,000 plus #food entries on Instagram to re-establishing a deeper appreciation of, and connection to, Earth’s magnificent bounty, on which all our lives depend.
We believe this is the time to strike because after years of inaction, governments, institutions and individuals are finally waking up to the challenge and are starting to take action.
On a global scale, 193 countries have signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals, which include a commitment to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level within 14 years, and reduce food losses among production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.
We are also seeing countries and companies across Europe starting to tackle the issue. Earlier this year, France showed what is possible by becoming the first country in the world to prohibit supermarkets from throwing away unsold food. Instead, they must donate unsold food to charities and food banks.
Meanwhile, the U.K.’s largest grocery chain Tesco is publicly disclosing how much of its food goes to waste and in March started selling a range of “ugly” vegetables called Perfectly Imperfect in 200 of its stores. It has also pledged to give all unsold food to charity by the end of 2017.
In contrast, the United States is a slumbering giant. We want to change that by asking for your support to help us achieve two key initial goals, which we believe will help unlock bigger changes down the road.
The first is to encourage Walmart, the nation’s largest supermarket, to follow the lead set in Europe by starting to sell imperfect-looking fruit and vegetables that normally go to waste. Walmart recently began an experiment to sell “ugly” russet potatoes at some stores in the U.S., but activists want to see a broader effort from the retail giant.
When you step back to think about the issue, it is pure madness that perfectly good and nutritious food is rejected by grocery chains simply because it does not match some idealized size or shape. For customers, there is the added advantage that imperfect produce is often a third cheaper.
We are teaming up with the petition platform Change.org and the campaign organization EndFoodWaste.org to garner enough signatures to convince Walmart to fall back in love with “ugly” fruit and vegetables and start stocking them across the United States.
The reason we are focusing on Walmart is that it is already a leader in the corporate sustainability movement and we believe it wants to do the right thing. What it needs is some encouragement and to see that its customers care about the issue.
The other reason is that Walmart has such enormous purchasing power that it has the ability to create or transform entire markets when it decides to act with vigor.
We have enough evidence to see that petitions work. Jordan Figueiredo, the founder of UglyFruitandVeg.org, has already succeeded in convincing Whole Foods to start a trial selling “ugly” produce after securing more than 110,000 signatures.
“With over 4,200 U.S. stores, we are asking Walmart, one of America’s largest retailers, to do something simple, effective and good for the retailers’ and customers’ bottom line,” the petition states. “One out of six Americans is food insecure, and more than four out of five is produce-deficient. With statistics like this, it is simply irresponsible to encourage waste of good, healthy and perfectly edible food.”
The second part of our campaign, which will kick off next month, is to encourage grocery chains to end the confusion over food date labeling in the United States, which leads to huge amounts of food being unnecessarily thrown in the garbage.
It is not surprising that people are befuddled by “sell by,” “use by” and “best before” labels, often hidden in tiny print on packaging. That’s because none of those labels are necessarily an effective indicator of whether the food is still good to eat.
We will be working with FeedbackGlobal.org, which has the backing of the Rockefeller Foundation, to encourage retailers to agree to a common voluntary code for food date labeling, which will in turn give support to members of Congress who are seeking to establish a national standard for date labels.
Beyond encouraging others to act, we are also launching a 30-day challenge to help you to reduce your own waste. This will include shopping and cooking tips, ranging from how to make stock from scraps to transforming your stale cookies into an epic pie.
Our food waste campaign is the latest expression of our global What’s Working initiative, which aims to empower our audience to positively change the world by highlighting the art of the possible.
It is the antidote to the negative focus of much of the news, which can lead citizens to feel overwhelmed and disengaged ― the very opposite of what we need.
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CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to include Walmart’s recent efforts to sell some “ugly” produce.