Americans Waste Too Much Food
While we were quick to post John Oliver’s bit on food waste last month, it seems the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) paper, “Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill” from a few years ago has become more relevant than ever due to the California drought coupled with the world’s progressive understanding of ongoing climate change. The focus of the paper is on the absurd chain of America’s waste generation, specifically as it applies to our food. It starts with waste generated post-growth and culminates in perfectly good food that goes to waste in households across the United States, all the while there exists:
“…49.1 million Americans living in food insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children. In 2013, 14 percent of households (17.5 million households) were food insecure. In 2013, 6 percent of households (6.8 million households) experienced very low food security.”
“More than two-thirds (68.8 percent) of adults are considered to be overweight or obese. More than one-third (35.7 percent) of adults are considered to be obese. More than 1 in 20 (6.3 percent) have extreme obesity. Almost 3 in 4 men (74 percent) are considered to be overweight or obese.”
The paper’s summary is as follows:
Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that the uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste where it accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions. Reducing food losses by just 15 percent would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables. Increasing the efficiency of our food system is a triplebottom-line solution that requires collaborative efforts by businesses, governments and consumers. The U.S. government should conduct a comprehensive study of losses in our food system and set national goals for waste reduction; businesses should seize opportunities to streamline their own operations, reduce food losses and save money; and consumers can waste less food by shopping wisely, knowing when food goes bad, buying produce that is perfectly edible even if it’s less cosmetically attractive, cooking only the amount of food they need, and eating their leftovers.
As you can see from the summary, the NRDC covers the food losses generated by the current system and makes suggestions to help remedy these flaws in what’s clearly a very wasteful process from start to finish. The document is twenty-six pages and worth at least a glance. Part of the issue here is improper labeling procedures. As John Oliver pointed out, “sell by” and “best if used by (or before)” dates are generally quite arbitrary. But further, there’s an overall lack of education on the consumer-side that contributes to this compound issue.