Each year, World Food Day falls on October 16, serving as a reminder that 821 million people worldwide — or one in nine — experience hunger. The pandemic has not only highlighted the ongoing need for nutritious food but also shed light on the fragility of food supply chains internationally.
Some people experienced long lines at grocery stores, while others couldn’t buy food at all. Beloved restaurants were forced to close their doors. Street and farmer’s markets couldn’t operate and producers couldn’t sell their produce. The accumulation of these issues caused countless family meals to be missed and pushed millions more into hunger.
But this year’s World Food Day is dedicated to highlighting food and agriculture as a crucial part of the response to COVID-19. In 1979, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) created World Food Day to commemorate the establishment of the FAO. It has since turned into a global event to raise awareness about hunger, food shortages and struggling food systems around the world.
While there is no simple solution to world hunger, there are several factors to examine that contribute to the problem. One such factor is food waste. It’s not a matter of the world not having enough food – more than enough food is produced each year to feed everyone on the planet. But food scarcity isn’t about a lack of food, but rather a result of wasted food.
The foodservice industry depends on wholesalers to deliver kitchen equipment, dining and cleaning supplies, and most importantly, foods and beverages. Each year, about 14 percent of that food is lost before it even reaches the wholesaler market. While it may seem like a daunting task to conquer, viable solutions to reduce that 14 percent are within reach.
“Innovative technologies, science, research and private sector companies can help us to transform the ways in which we produce and consume food – for the well-being of our communities, our economies, and our planet,” the FAO stated.
One such technology for reducing food waste is artificial intelligence (AI), and it is already being used in the foodservice industry to monitor and adjust the temperature and air quality of perishable foods. Not only can AI help food on store shelves last longer, but it can also learn consumer behavior and economic patterns to ensure food is purchased before spoilage.
However, it will take more than just AI to solve the problem. Partnerships between farmers, processors, packers, retailers and logistics providers are key to reducing food waste alongside technologies. By partnering with local organizations, foodservice distributors can donate unused or unneeded food to charities or food banks – food that would otherwise be wasted.
While AI and partnerships will help to reduce the amount of food that is wasted on a broader scale, a significant amount of food is wasted at home. The average American wastes over a quarter of the food they buy. If that wasted food was consumed, it would be sufficient enough to feed 870 million people.
World Food Day is calling for global solidarity to help those suffering from hunger recover from the crisis. This will require making food systems more resilient so they can withstand the instability brought on by the pandemic and deliver sustainable, nutritious and affordable food to all populations.