woman begging in the street

Food not eaten would feed the hungry

If you go to bed on a full stomach, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. Many people are not so fortunate.

I don’t ever remember going to bed hungry except for the self-imposed stomach pangs from my latest fad diet. The fact that I diet at all is a giveaway. I have access to too much food or choose to consume the wrong kinds.

I am one lucky bugger. 

Such flippancy defines this end of the food problem. 

Here is the reality in 2021 as described by the United Nations in their online chronicle 

Each day, 25,000 people, including more than 10,000 children, die from hunger and related causes. Some 854 million people worldwide are estimated to be undernourished, and high food prices may drive another 100 million into poverty and hunger. The risks are particularly acute among those who must spend at least 60 per cent of their income on food: the urban poor and displaced populations, the rural landless, pastoralists and the majority of smallholder farmers.

John Holmes, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

I am one seriously lucky bugger. 

I live in Australia, where the average household spends 10% of its income on food. This means that food prices can double and whilst I may complain, it is well within my means to afford the extra cost.

What happens if food prices double and your current spend on food is 60% of your income?

Yes, there is not enough money to spend on food let alone anything else.

It is hard to comprehend 854 million people. 

And it’s not that they are all in a handful of countries that become caricatures of the problem — remember LiveAid and feed the world — undernourished people are spread across the globe and exist in every country.

In the US, the Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) supported roughly 40 million Americans in 2018 with 9.2% of American households receiving SNAP benefits during 2017. One in six children in the US live in families with SNAP benefits.

I’ll say that again, 40 million Americans – the population of Canada as of July 2021 was 38 million.

In Australia, a country of 24 million people with that 10% average spend on food, over five million people experience food insecurity each year, one quarter are children.

Just to simplify the 854 million people, think of it as one in ten people undernourished.

Next time you are on a bus in the rush hour look around. At least 6 of the people on the bus represent the global undernourished. Then add another 2 to cover those malnourished from too much of the wrong food.

One in ten people, one in six kids, should be unacceptable statistics.

Now check his quote from Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics

Quote by Kate Raworth on how much food it would take to feed the malnourished from her Doughnut Economics book.

It is staggering if what Raworth says is true that 3% of the global food supply would feed the undernourished and that the percentage is so low because just half of the food produced gets eaten.

It is hard to gather reliable evidence for these numbers because of the food system’s complexity. There are many opportunities for spoilage and loss from harvest to transport, storage, processing, and retail. Once the consumer obtains the food, there are more losses in storage, cooking and what gets left on the plate by the picky child unable to eat greens.

But even if the 3% of global food supply estimate is out by a factor of 3 and the real number to feed the hungry is 10%, just cutting the food waste numbers by a third would provide enough food.

This should be a colossal embarrassment to everyone who goes to bed well-fed.

What sustainably FED suggests…

Be embarrassed, then be angry and demand better of yourself. 

Sure, have a go at the politicians and the corporates who we let behave in ways that got us into this unholy mess. But remember that the social and economic systems in which these villains thrive are of our making.

And if you are one of the lucky ones, never take your food security for granted.

Hero image from photo by Karthikeyan K on Unsplash


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

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