As grocery shopping becomes the next frontier for tech companies to conquer amid the Amazon’s and Peapod’s of the world, it is difficult to remember that food is not a guarantee for everyone. According to Feeding America, about14% of Americans experience food insecurity, which is defined by the USDA as “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources.” On the flip side, up to 40% of food goes towaste each year. Clearly, the basic math indicates that our country’s hunger problems are not an issue of lack of supply, but an issue of disproportionate distribution. So where does that 40% of waste come from? According to research from the NaturalResources Defense Council (NRDC), food waste occurs in each and every step of the supply chain.

At the source, food is lost on farms due to weather, market conditions, and staffing issues among other causes. When farms sell their product to suppliers, the culling (QA) process removes any produce with blemishes or dents that would likely not sell on the shelves of glossy grocery stores. The food lost during this step in the supply chain is perfectly edible, but it might not look pretty to the natural eye.

Food is also wasted when product is damaged or spoiled during the distribution and transportation processes. Damages along the way might also occur in packaged food where one mistake taints an entire batch. For example, in a box with a dozen gallons of milk, if one gallon has a leak, then that entire box becomes unsellable goods even though the remaining eleven are perfectly fine. By the time the food makes it to the shelves, damages from employee and customer handling can cause otherwise perfect products to be labeled as unsellable and thrown away. Furthermore, when suppliers aren’t properly educating both their employees and consumers, lack of knowledge can cause the disposal of edible foods over fear of illness from expired product.

Of course, all of this waste comes at a cost to suppliers and consumers. According to the NRDC, food waste translates to about $165 billion per year (compare that to the Amazon/Whole Foods deal that cost $13.7 billion). Aside from any startling costs or figures, the core issue is primarily human rights: according to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, if just one-fourth of the food wasted globally could be saved, it could feed 870 million hungry people. Food is one of the most fragile goods to supply, but it is also one of the most precious goods on Earth. Studies have shownthat extended hunger can result in chronic disease, let alone the stress of having to manage the insecurity itself. As food delivery methods become high tech, it is imperative to remember how lucky we are to have access to food in the first place.

What options are available for reducing food waste? The answer has two sides. On a macro level, supply chains and supplier attitudes must shift in order to optimize distribution. Supply chains must be equipped to handle all distances, temperatures, and storage requirements. While food surplus is common in the restaurant industry as they strive to prepare their locations for demand from customers, overcompensating can often lead to food waste. In these situations food suppliers can consider adopting sustainable practices such as donating food at the close of business, which would otherwise be disposed of, to food rescue organizations in their area that donate the food to those in need.

On a micro level, consumers should be aware of their purchasing habits consider volunteering for food rescue organizations that redistribute food that would otherwise go to waste and share it with community organizations such as food pantries and soup kitchens. Non-profits across America are spearheading the food rescue movement, and it is mostly lead by volunteers. Organizations such as 412 Food Rescue in Pittsburgh, Lovin’ Spoonfuls in Boston, and City Harvest in New York City rescue millions of pounds of food using volunteers. Even these volunteer efforts require advanced supply chains to execute their missions. From the logistics of trucking to uber-like apps, food rescue organizations work on the cutting edge of technology to deliver food to the communities that need it the most.

As a college student and intern at Source One, it is helpful for me to remember these philanthropic opportunities as I apply my supply chain management capabilities inside and outside the office. My experiences at Source One, coupled with my work in food rescue organizations,  has enabled me to understand how each individual can play an important role in addressing hunger on a global scale. Truly, the skillset of a strategic sourcing consultant is invaluable, not just to businesses, but to our society as a whole. Food waste is a reality of our current consumer culture, but it doesn’t have to remain that way. As our population continues to rise, we must be proactive in eliminating unnecessary waste, as suppliers and consumers.  
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