The world’s urban population is growing by approximately 200,000 people per day. Of that, a significant number is of those migrating from rural pockets. In other words, more and more are moving away from the sources of food, which means an increase in carbon emissions through moving food over long distances to our cities. Whilst this could open an argument that we need to rethink the way we live and work, the fact remains that the embedded carbon in transporting food – and I am not even speaking of transport refrigeration – is hard to ignore.
Enlightened town planners worry themselves sick over how much carbon our buildings emit but disproportionately less about food-related emissions. Transporting food is just one way of adding to the carbon load. What about the energy it takes to produce the food, in the first place? I might be somewhat off the mark, given that I am not privy to exhaustive global data, but we, as the human race, are emitting in the region of 10 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide to produce our food. And off that, horrendously enough, we are losing and wasting 40%. Which brings us to the next point – the vast majority of the food we waste ends up in landfills, where it degrades to emit methane, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to the climate crisis that we find ourselves in the midst of.
The problem needs to be attacked on two fronts. The first has to do with reassessing our lifestyle and our apparent lack of conscience over not only the inequitable availability and distribution of food but also over our acceptance that a certain portion of the food we produce would inevitably be wasted. The second has to do with strengthening our cold chain systems to preserve the food we grow from the post-harvest stage all the way till the time they land on our plates.
Food loss and food waste are pertinent points to discuss in the year of COP28. Conscience is the basis of good engineering.