Our food system is dysfunctional, with conventional farming methods unsustainable and nutrient-deficient, according to journalist and food waste expert Jonathan Bloom. As a result, one-third of adults in the U.S. suffer from diabetes and other chronic diseases related to a lack of nutrients and micro- nutrients in their diet. And alarmingly, today 15% of U.S. households do not enjoy food security.

Bloom made these remarks in a keynote speech at the Sustainable Food Summit organized by Organic Monitor on January 22-23 in San Francisco, during which he called for a policy shift to counter a pervasive problem with food waste.

“We are wasting 40% of the food grown, raised and processed in the U.S.,” said Bloom. This works out to 160 billion pounds per year, equivalent to a quarter trillion U.S. dollars. Every day, the U.S. wastes the equivalent of two Rose Bowl football stadiums, he said. This is a grave concern from an environmental standpoint, as food waste means oil and water and other natural resources are wasted too. Globally, about 500 million hectares of land is wasted food, roughly the size of India, said Bloom. And food that ends up in the landfill is bad news, as decomposition without air creates methane gas, one of the main contributors to climate change. Food waste is critically important from an ethical standpoint: while 15% of the population does not have food security, 40% of the food available is wasted. The world produces enough food to feed everyone, Bloom charged.

By 2050, the world population will reach nine billion, and Bloom said the solution to feed the growing population is not monocultures of GMO crops or to cut trees and clear forests to grow soy and corn for raising more cattle.Instead, he offered five suggestions to alleviate food waste through a policy shift that includes: More research to collect better data to figure out how much food is actually wasted; Set proper goals to reduce waste once proper data is available; ban food from landfills (making it difficult to throw food away will help people figure out how to prevent waste); reassess food production: what do we produce and where is it going?; develop an awareness campaign, especially to involve the younger generation.

Bloom said there must also be a consumer shift. We must think more about how we buy and cook food. This involves: Understanding expiration dates on packaging labels; buying smaller amounts of perishable foods; serving smaller food portions and saving and eating leftovers; visiting the store more often and planning meals better will definitely save wasted food in the kitchen; and connecting to food to better appreciate its value and avoid waste, which means growing and cooking our own food and buying directly from local farmers. For the third consecutive year, the North American edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit was hosted in San Francisco, January 22-23. It was the 7th edition of an international series of summits organized by market research firm Organic Monitor. Focal themes of this edition besides food security & waste were marketing best-practices and new technologies.

Jonathan Bloom regularly gives public lectures on the issue of food waste and consults on food waste reduction, most recently working with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and several startups. He is also the author of the blog, Wasted Food and in 2010, published his book, American Wasteland.