Author addresses intersection of food security, climate change

The picture showed a bowl, empty except for a few small fish bones.

It was one of several images in a photo essay by journalist Lisa Palmer and photographer Chris de Bode illustrating a crisis in Cameroon, where climate change and refugee resettlement have combined to cause severe food shortages. Many people there get by on only one meal a day, Palmer said.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, food is so plentiful that billions of tons wind up in landfills.

In her book “Hot, Hungry Planet: The Fight to Stop a Global Food Crisis in the Face of Climate Change,” Palmer explored the future of food security in places including India, sub-Saharan Africa, the United States, Latin America, the Middle East and Indonesia.

Palmer visited the University of Missouri on Thursday as part of the Smith/Patterson Science Journalism Fellowship and Lecture Series. She participated in a panel discussion also featuring Mary Hendrickson and Corinne Valdivia, professors from MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. The three panelists shared insights on how to address food insecurity and food waste.

Lisa Palmer’s book looks at the relationship between climate change and global hunger. | Indah Setiawati/Missouri Business Alert

Hendrickson said problems of food security are more about distribution issues than food shortages. By distribution, she means two things: the act of distributing food to consumers, and distribution of income.

“Food goes where people can pay for it,” Hendrickson said.

Each year, about one-third of the food produced in the world, or approximately 1.3 billion tons, is wasted, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In developing countries, 40 percent of food losses were at the post-harvest and processing levels, according to the FAO. In industrialized countries, more than 40 percent of food losses happened at the retail and consumer levels.

Consumers in Europe and North America discard between 210 and 250 pounds per capita each year, according to the FAO, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia throw away less than 25 pounds of food per year.

The amount of food waste in the U.S. has increased each decade since the 1960s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest study on the matter. Around 30 million tons of food waste went to landfills in 2015, according to the EPA, accounting for 22 percent of the solid waste that ended up in landfills.

The EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched the first national food waste reduction initiative in 2015, aiming to cut food waste in half by 2030.

Palmer said the increasing amount of food waste should be a clear sign for people to take action in their daily lives. That includes making sure not to overeat and trying to eat a plant-based diet featuring meat alternatives that require less energy to produce.

“Buy less food,” she said, “and eat all of it.”

Valdivia, who studies how people adapt to migration and climate change, said Americans have exported their fast-food consumption to other parts of the world, so they also need to think critically about their food system and educating as well as providing opportunity for people to have access to food.

Hendrickson said training in urban farming like what’s offered by the nonprofit Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture is a solution in mid-Missouri for providing access to fresh produce that can serve as an alternative to meat consumption. The Columbia agriculture group donated 17,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to families in need in 2017.

“It brings fresh food to our system,” she said.

Missouri Business Alert’s sustainability coverage is funded in part by the Mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management District.

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