Food Banks in the USA and Japan

When you are full but there is some food left over, what do you usually do? When you have food that has just expired, do you throw it away? Across the world, a lot of food is thrown away even though it is edible. Meanwhile, the global problem of hunger is serious. There are currently 815 million people suffering from hunger or chronic under nourishment. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), nearly 1.3 billion tons of food is abandoned annually in the world, which is enough to feed 1 billion hungry people. In this blog, I focus on the USA and Japan because there are many people in these countries who are suffering from hunger, even though there is adequate food available to provide for the hungry.

The present situation of hunger and food banks in the USA and in Japan is as follows:

Statistic USA Japan
The number of people who are suffering from hunger 41 million (1 in 7) 20 million (1 in 6)
The number of food banks 200 43
The amount of food loss annually 72 billion pounds 13.6 billion pounds

As you can see, many people are suffering from hunger even though these countries are considered “developed.” In Japan, a lot of food is discarded, even though the country depends heavily upon imports. The food self-sufficiency rate in Japan is about 39%, and 58 million tons of food are imported each year. Additionally, Japan does not have many food banks, and there is little social recognition of the problem of hunger.

Food banks rely upon donations from national food and grocery manufacturers, retailers, shippers, packers and growers, and from government agencies and other organizations. In these organizations, there are often staff who work closely with partners to match excess food with the food banks that most need it. In food bank, there are staff with training, oversight and equipment to ensure perishable and non-perishable food is handled and stored properly. Food banks then distribute food and grocery items through food pantries and meal programs that serve families, children, seniors and individuals at risk of hunger.


Roadrunner Food Bank. Image from ABQ Journal.

In New Mexico, 14.4% of residents don’t know where their next meal will come from. The state is also ranked #2 in childhood hunger. Roadrunner Food Bank is the largest food bank in Albuquerque, and I volunteered there to learn more. They are helping 70,000 hungry people in our state weekly. That figure is equivalent to feeding a city the size of Santa Fe every single week. Usually, volunteers working in the Roadrunner Food Bank will help prepare food for distribution to hungry people across the state. When I worked as a volunteer I bagged loose beans into smaller packages for distribution at food pick-up sites. I want to continue volunteering because Roadrunner has so many tasks that need to get done each day by volunteers.


Food donations are being recruited from the general public at an event. The flag reads: Turn something that may go to waste into a “thank you.” Image from: Second Harvest Kyoto

In my town, Kyoto, in Japan, there is a food bank whose name is Second Harvest Kyoto. In Kyoto prefecture, the amount of food loss is about 300 million pounds per year; however, the amount of food contributed to the food bank is only 30,000 pounds per year. Second Harvest Kyoto served food to 13,000 people during 2017, a much smaller number of people than those who receive food bank services in New Mexico. As you can see from these numbers, there is little social recognition of the problem of hunger in Japan.

We know that there are many people who cannot get enough food in our countries. So, if there is something that you can personally change, please shift your eating habits in order to reduce food loss. For example, you should not buy a lot of food all at once, even though it may be really cheap to do so. Also, you should discriminate between “best-by dates” and “expiration dates.” If the food has just passed its “best-by date,” it is still safe to consume. However, there are many people who will throw it away. Like this simple example, there are many other things you can do to shift your eating habits, and they can lead to a significant reduction in food loss.


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