The Global Food Waste Scandal


“Stop wasting food. Thank you very much.” So ends the TED talk by Tristram Stuart titled The global food waste scandal. Pictured above, Tristram stands behind a mound of perfectly edible but imperfectly shaped bananas, one day’s worth of waste from just one plantation in Ecuador. The video tells the story through a powerful series of images that help us visualize the problem of food waste and also help us begin to see ways to reverse this phenomenon.

This is a problem with a true technology solution. Information technology may saves the world, not because these technologies help us create more food or stabilize the climate, but because they accelerates and expand our access to good information and ideas. Lean management as a good idea has spread through word of mouth, conferences, books, videos and the internet. Lean teaches that waste is bad. We just need to keep expanding our awareness of the waste around us to the point where a behavior change is triggered and consumers change how food is delivered to us.

Most of Lean is concerned with wasted resources as it relates to business and the act of maximizing profit, in one form or another. Many business delay adopting Lean methods and principles because they waver and wonder, “How does this apply to my unique organizational environment?” Taking the opposite view, let’s consider how much every person in every organization around the world has in common. We must all consume calories and nutrients in order to live, and most of us do this by eating food, often multiple times every day. Every one of these is an opportunity to give thanks and reflect on how we can reduce wasted resources. As consumers, every one of us has control over the signals we give to the food producers and distributors.

In the USA alone we produce four times the food we need to feed the population. Tristram argues that half or more of this food is wasted in various ways. This is not unique to the USA but to most rich countries. These countries are full of skilled, capable people with access to information about this problem. All we need is will to act.

I am optimistic that we can and will continue to address various huge problems we face in the world, including the question of how we will feed the 9+ billion people who are expected to inhabit this planet by 2050. Once we go to the gemba of the food value streams we will be shocked by the waste. Once we go to the customer (those who hunger) and ask them what level of physical perfection they require of the food, we will be ashamed.