Have you ever stopped to think about the food you eat on a typical day? For breakfast, you might enjoy a bowl of cereal or oatmeal. At school, you eat a hot, nutritious lunch. After school, you probably gobble down a snack or two before doing homework.
When your parents get home, it's time for a delicious family dinner. Maybe it'll be one of your favorites, like spaghetti and meatballs, tacos, or pizza! After playing outside after dinner, you might finish your evening with a quick pre-bedtime snack, like an apple or an orange.
If you're like most kids, you don't worry much about what you're going to eat. There's always food in the cupboards and the refrigerator. Unfortunately, the reality for millions upon millions of people around the world is that they are undernourished or malnourished because they simply do not have any (or enough) food to eat.
The fact that there are so many hungry people in the world today is mind-boggling when you think about it. We're well into the 21st century. We can communicate instantaneously with people all over Earth. Thanks to the Internet, the collected knowledge of humanity is at our fingertips via the smartphones in our pockets. We can send probes to distant planets. How is world hunger still such a major problem?
Recent estimates from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization put the number of chronically undernourished people in the world at approximately 795 million. That means that about one in nine of the over seven billion people on Earth suffer from hunger regularly.
Nearly all of the world's undernourished people live in developing countries. In fact, about two out of three of the world's chronically-undernourished people live in Asia. Sub-Saharan Africa still remains the region with the worst hunger problems, where more than one in four people are undernourished.
Some people assume that world hunger is still a grave problem because there's simply not enough food to feed everyone. Scientists who have studied world hunger, however, will tell you that the world produces more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet. So what's the problem?
The main cause of hunger worldwide is poverty. Millions of people around the world are simply too poor to be able to buy food. They also lack the resources to grow their own food, such as arable land and the means to harvest, process, and store food.
There are many causes of poverty that contribute to the problem of world hunger. For example, conflicts around the world, including wars between countries, civil wars within countries, terrorism, and other violence, displace millions of people, leading to increased poverty and hunger.
Another contributing factor is hunger itself. Although it might seem odd to blame hunger for hunger, it's actually a reflection of the vicious cycle that hunger causes. When people are undernourished, they tend to be weak and unhealthy. If hunger makes it hard to grow and learn, it's no surprise when these people can't rise up to break the cycle of poverty and hunger.
When thinking of ways to fix world hunger, some people have started to focus on the issue of food waste. With nearly 800 million people in the world chronically undernourished and enough food produced worldwide to feed everyone, why is so much food wasted?
The United Nations estimates that the world wastes approximately 2.9 trillion pounds of food each year. That's enough to feed the world's undernourished more than twice over. To put things in perspective, that's about one-third of the world's food production wasted annually.
In the United States, the numbers are more staggering. Some experts estimate that as much as 40% of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted. The problems with waste stem from every step in the food production, distribution, and consumption process.
Up to 20% of fruits and vegetables never make it off the farm, because distributors and retailers have cosmetic standards that result in edible food with spots or blemishes getting thrown out. The food that does reach the grocery store often gets wasted if it's not sold in a timely manner. Consumers are also to blame, because restaurants and people at home throw out food on a regular basis.
Food waste also takes a toll on the environment and natural resources. In the United States, we spend over $165 billion and use 25% of our fresh water to produce the food we throw away. If we can develop ways to reduce food waste and improve food distribution worldwide, world hunger might one day finally become a problem of the past.