An Imbalance in the Food System
Growing concern over food crisis
Two months are about to pass since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With the world in turmoil, David Beasley, Executive Director of the UN World Food Program (WFP), warned that “the war in Ukraine is causing the biggest food crisis since World War II.”
Russia and Ukraine are known as the world’s breadbasket, producing 30% of the world’s wheat, 20% of corn, and 75-80% of sunflower oil. Russia’s blockade of ports on the Black Sea has reduced exports from Ukraine by a quarter and has had a major impact on the world region.
Food prices have skyrocketed in Egypt and Lebanon, which rely heavily on imports from Ukraine; wheat prices in March were up to 50% higher than in February. In addition, the rising cost of fuel and transportation due to reduced energy supplies is also putting a damper on food prices.
WFP, which provides food aid to the hungry, is one of the agencies dependent on imports from Ukraine. Having purchased 50% of its grain from Ukraine, it now spends $71 million more per month on its activities. As a result, it is estimated that the number of people it can help per year will decrease by 4 million. What can be done to solve these global food problems? This week, we would like to focus on efforts to address these issues.
Balance Correction as Redistribution
As mentioned in the highlights, the Ukrainian invasion has disrupted the food supply chains, causing significant impacts on Arab and African countries. Tunisia, for example, heavily relies on importing 50% of its wheat from Ukraine, and with the halt in Ukrainian food exports, the country is facing inflation struggles. Saudi Arabia has also experienced a 40% increase in the purchase cost of wheat. However, the issue of food inflation and food crises is not solely a result of the Ukrainian crisis. Since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, global supply chains have become more vulnerable, including Japan, which has relatively low levels of food self-sufficiency in terms of calories and production.
Addressing food crises, local consumption of locally produced food is a solid answer, but achieving self-sufficiency in production and consumption at the current stage is quite challenging due to regional differences, population, and land usage. Therefore, food banks deserve attention. Food banks operate by collecting and providing surplus food items that may have minor packaging errors or are close to their expiration dates. Various countries have implemented food bank initiatives, including numerous active organizations in Japan.
While many of these activities are currently carried out at the national or regional level, there are food banks operating on an international scale. Resolving the imbalance in food distribution as redistribution, rather than just providing aid, seems to be the key.
To Waste or to Eat: A Dilemma
While one in ten people in the world suffer from hunger, more than 900 million tons of food are wasted every year, and 60% of this waste comes from households. Personally, I often find myself with excess food ingredients, so I can’t ignore this issue.
Food waste has a significant environmental impact, accounting for approximately 8-10% of greenhouse gas emissions, making its reduction and reuse essential.
So, what actions can we take to reduce food waste?
For instance, the UK-based startup OLIO offers a food-sharing service, allowing neighbors to share surplus food items. While food redistribution mechanisms like food banks are becoming more established on an industrial level, similar initiatives at the household level are also worth exploring.
Additionally, there are household-level initiatives. For example, you can regrow romaine lettuce cores by soaking them in water. However, cultivating vegetables in the kitchen might be a high hurdle for many, including myself. In that case, why not start with trying recipes that incorporate often-discarded food ingredients?
Connecting global problems with our own household environments might be challenging, but we can start by reducing waste in our immediate surroundings and facing the issue of food waste with a fresh perspective.
Embracing the Frozen Food Renaissance
The era of proclaiming “Frozen foods are good for you!” is just around the corner.
Frozen food has long been associated with shortcuts and additives, but taking a fresh look at these products reveals unexpected potential.
According to Quartz, frozen food sales in the US increased by 26% in January 2022 compared to January 2020. The rise of remote work and the need to cook at home more frequently during the pandemic has likely influenced changes in eating habits, with people now prioritizing efficiency. Moreover, there is growing concern about the future of food supply, making frozen food a practical choice. Frozen ingredients have a longer shelf life compared to fresh produce, reducing anxiety about the availability of food during crises like pandemic buying.
This surge in interest has led to innovation in the frozen food industry, with a focus on “health.” The market now offers products that cater to trends like low-carb and plant-based diets. In Europe, there is a popular service delivering nutritionally balanced, pre-cooked frozen meals.
By making use of frozen foods that benefit our bodies, we can restore order to our disrupted eating habits.