Ecology and Economics and Social Issues01 Jun 2011 05:47 pm

Most living things need air, water and food in order to survive. This is definitely the case for human beings. Yet, if you look at how we live and the decisions we make as a planet you would be hard pressed to conclude that life’s basic essentials are a high priority.

In the US the wealthiest, most powerful and advanced society the world has ever known a significant percent of drinkable water is wasted, polluted, used inefficiently or unnecessarily reprocessed. Much of the infrastructure of the US is in a severe state of decay. This is surely the case with the American water system and its aging water lines.

Over 17% of the treated water in the US is lost by leaks in the system, in some cities the estimates are as high as 50% of the water entering the water lines is lost through leakage. Instead of using tax payer money to update and improve the water system and make it efficient, citizens end up paying for water that is lost in the system through their water bills.

In essence we are treating and purifying water for human consumption and than allowing between and 1/5 and a 1/6 of it to be lost in faulty water lines. Yet, this lost water does not include the other ways in which we undervalue and abuse this essential ingredient of human life.

Many reports over the last decade show that Americans eat out an average of four to five times a week. In most US eateries it is a primary duty of waiters and waitresses to keep your cup or glass of water, tea, soda, coffee or any other water based beverage full at all times. What this means is that most people end their meal with a full or partially filled beverage cup which, of course is wasted water.

The list of ways in which we waste water and use it inefficiently would include lawn care, livestock, ornamental water devices and gardening just to mention a few. This is not to say a portion of this is not necessary and beneficial but only to point out that we aren’t actually being frugal with probably the most precious and valuable resource for human existence.

Water we are told is essential for life, and the essence or life. When you consider that any planet without water is considered incapable of sustaining life, it seems odd that we take such a cavalier attitude towards its usage. When you consider that the major portion of our planet’s water is not fit for human consumption it seems unfathomable that we would degrade, pollute and contaminate such a high percentage of our “fresh water” that remains which is suitable for consumption for the billions of people around the globe.

The situation regarding food is just as appalling. Each year the amount of land suitable efor farming is decreasing due to drought, urbanization, industrial expansion and practices to acquire other resources such as wood, coal, oil and various minerals. Yet, despite this, globally we produce around 8.7 trillion pounds of edible foodstuffs. Despite this ample amount of food we live in a world in which 925 million people suffer from hunger.

It is often said that when it comes to food we do not have a supply problem, but one of distribution. Yet, the problem isn’t only about distribution, it is also about waste and lifestyle. Like water, we often do not treat food with the respect it deserves, we do not treat food as an essential aspect of human existence.

According to the UN an astounding 1/3 of all food around the globe is wasted, spoiled or never used. In underdeveloped nations the problem is often of storage, distribution and political conflict. Yet, in the industrialized nations it is mostly a matter of wasteful habits, market practices and economic forces (profit considerations).

According to the report published in early May of this year in industrialized countries, the issue is more about “retailers and consumers throwing perfectly edible foodstuffs into the trash.” The report found that in Europe and North America consumers wasted between 95 and 115 kilograms (209 and 253 pounds) of food every year.
The report found that in the retail industry there was an “over-emphasis on appearance”. “Consumers in rich countries are generally encouraged to buy more food than they need,” it said, giving as an example oversized ready-to-eat meals produced by the food industry and fixed-price buffets in restaurants.

The waste habits and practices of the industrialized west cause food prices to rise all over the globe. This often makes the prices of staples and basic food stuffs unaffordable to a growing number of people. The recent food riots in numerous countries around the globe have been the public reaction to the strain of food prices on a growing percentage or the populace.

A vast amount of edible food is thrown out of restaurants and grocery stores on a daily basis. Waste and destruction of food is significant in almost every phase of the restaurant businesses. At the preparation phase any food that is not visually pleasing is discarded even if it is perfectly edible. Likewise many perishables are discarded if they are not ordered by customers in a timely basis.

Oftentimes meals contain edible foods which are used more for presentation than consumption with the result being they are left unconsumed and thrown away. It is rare that patrons of restaurants eat all on their plate, or take all leftovers home for later consumption. Restaurants are embarrassed when they run out of anything offered on their menu. This results in owners preventing this occurring by over stocking on a daily basis and ending each day with unused food needing to be tossed.
Grocery stores often toss perishables rather than sell them at reduced prices as they near spoiling to protect their profit margins. Waste and reduced prices are all part of the profit equation, and it is often more profitable to throw food away than sell it at lower prices.

Along with food and water man needs to breathe. A man not breathing is a man not living. Though it seems we can breathe air that is far from perfect or even fresh, the truth of the matter is that our survival depends on a relatively narrow band of air quality. Yet, like water, we have adopted many practices which degrade, degrade and contaminate the air we breathe.

The statement that we need air, water and food is simple and basic. It is a statement of fact, that few if any would contest. Yet, our behavior seems to suggest that either we have other priorities we deem more important than existence, or that in the long run, we really don’t care about being alive or the quality of our life.

I personally have a difficulty considering any human society advanced or civilized which does not make basic survival a high priority. It would appear to me that providing all with food, water and healthy air is job one. This is not about politics, ethics or morality, it just about making sense and acting in a sensible way.

Jim Guido

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