We in the West waste nothing so prodigiously as food. One could argue time, but it’s hard to say what purpose time serves and whether it’s possible to know the way in which we spend it is wasteful or meaningful. That quickly becomes a philosophical or religious question, while squandering good nutrition is more practical matter that is hard to deny.
There may be a billion people in the world who not regularly have access to enough food. They are hungry. Yet we do not have a capacity problem on our planet in terms of food production, we have a minor problem of logistics, and a major problem of political will. As individuals, we can become the change we want to see in political will by raising awareness of how we waste food every day.
Borrowing the 7 wastes of production from Taiichi Ohno and the Toyota Production System, here are the ways we waste food.
Overeating. Akin to overproduction, we consume more than we need. This may be enjoyable in moderation, but outside of it creates various personal and social costs, not least of which is illness and medical bills.
Overstocking. This is the waste of inventory of food, of buying in bulk and stockpiling. Warehouse discount store volume buying creates a spike in demand which amplifies backwards along the supply chain in what is known as the bullwhip effect, causing producers to make and supply in batches. The demand-supply signal is dulled, since our actual pace of consumption may only be one pack of yoghurt per day but we are forced to buy packs of 16.
Transportation. We consume foods produced so far away that it requires sophisticated supply chains to get the food to our door. Never mind the hidden costs of inexpensive, all-season fruit from faraway places, we are exposing ourselves to truncation of supply lines in the event of natural disasters. If there were a major disaster that prevented food from arriving by ships and trucks, where would most of us turn?
Overpackaging. The more layers of paper, cardboard, metal or plastic that needs to be removed before handling the edible stuff, the more material and energy we are throwing away. We need packaging because we preserve, transport and stockpile our food. The false economy of scale of faraway, low labor cost mass production results in many wastes downstream.
Motion. The act of eating itself, moving food from plate to mouth, may be a waste if the food is hard to digest or lacking nutrition. We disrespect our alimentary canala and their elegant peristalic waves by eating food that does not reward us with health and well-being for the motions we go through.
Overcooking. This is simply a case of creating less tasty, less nutritious or even inedible food because it was cooked too long. It is a defect.
Overprocessing . It is not a criticism of the beef industry, the drugging and feeding cows large volumes of grain to create juicy beef seems like a classic waste of processing when a field of grass may suffice. In Japan the best beef is force fed beer and given massages daily while listening to classical music.
Many lean events involve catered food, lunch buffets or celebration dinners. How many lean conferences, kaizen workshops, problem solving training events or project team celebrations show a disconnect with the very lean principles of respect for people and continuous improvement by wasting food in one or more of the ways above? Truly, food is a culture that is hard change. But it is one that we can personally influence every day.