The side view of social blindness

The news related to food these days is simply weird. On one hand, genetically enhanced corn and its derivatives are flooding our households with nutritiously poor but surely inexpensive food. All right, we have enough to feed everybody.

On the other hand, more people are having troubles affording what they eat. In the United States, 50 million people are relying on food stamps. Oops, food isn’t enough?

And on the weirdest part, the third hand, nearly half of the total produced food is wasted. Okay, more than enough food.

In America, we throw away 40 percent of the food we produce every year. That’s nearly half our food — $165 billion dollars’ worth — in the garbage, instead of in our stomachs. Nine out of ten of us discard food — and likely are convinced we need to go out and buy more — because of the mistaken belief that the “sell by” date has a food safety implication for ourselves or our family.

It’s estimated that 160 billion pounds of food is dumped in the United States annually, in part due to this labeling confusion. That’s almost enough wasted food to fill up a football stadium every day. Discarded food is the biggest single contributor to solid waste in landfills. We’re throwing away perfectly good food at a time when one in six Americans is considered “food insecure,” meaning that they struggle to put food on their tables year-round. Globally, 28 percent of the world’s farmland is being used to produce food that is not being eaten. That’s an area bigger than China.

The documentary Taste the Waste follows follows this food waste issues (along with cool portraits of dumpster divers).

Therefore, the conclusion I deduce from those videos is: 1. We produce enough amount of food. 2. We waste nearly half of them. 3. As a result, not everybody can afford their food without government aid.

Nobody, not even the 1%, agrees that food should be wasted. It is one of our basic survival instincts, along with aversion of death. But for some reason, reality has made twisted turns.

Back in Japan at the end of the last century, I remember 7-11 clerks routinely wasting lunch boxes away into trash bins at the end of the day. They were actually lining the boxes neatly on top of the bin, so that homeless people and penniless students living nearby can take them off silently. An ecosystem was created around each 7-11 not just inside, but also outside the store. Those were the end of the salad days, when we could still believe—or rather hope—that somehow the world knew how to make ends meet, close the loop, or create a ecosystem guided by invisible hands.

The current situation reminds me of the stories of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Food and natural resources were produced abundantly thanks to the never-ending fields of minerals, but the transportation system was completely dysfunctional.

Or using our body as an analogy, the current situation is a modern “super” healthy man, having enhanced or replaced his vital organs, but somehow forgot to reconnect the vessels: blood and nerves. Isn’t it ironic that the entire system is so fragmented in this era of information super-highway?

No, the system works seamlessly (otherwise we won’t be eating a one-dollar hot dog). What is truly fragmented, or maybe minimized, is our vision, the coverage of our social antenna.

The more social networks and tailored search algorithm evolve, the narrower our circle of interest, people, world becomes. We can easily fool ourselves that the world we see through the Internet lens is everything that exists.

This is a huge topic so I can’t dive in at once. I am just staggered by the amount of “inconvenient truths” mounted just one step outside our usual interest, and the devastating effect they are putting on our real lives. Convenience spreads stealthily like virus, and so does its side effects.