In America, roughly 133 billion pounds of food are thrown out each year, about 40% of all the food produced in the country.
Peter Lehner, the executive director of the natural resource defense council, estimates that if food waste was cut down by one third, everyone in America could be fully fed. According to an NPR article, the food is thrown out at numerous points during harvesting, transportation, processing, and selling.
An NPR video stated that about 30% of crops are eliminated before they even reach the market. If fruits and vegetables do not pass the cosmetic standards, they are left in the field to be plowed over. Only the most perfect, uniform produce is kept. For example, a cauliflower that is perfectly normal except for a slight yellow tint would be rejected.
Slide the vertical bar to view a representation of how much food is wasted.
During the shipping process, food is often damaged or aged, and thus disregarded. In grocery stores, all of the food not bought by costumers before it has staled or wilted is thrown away. According to a CNN article, 90% of Americans dispose of edible and safe food because of the date on the product; a large amount of ‘expired’ food consumers throw out is in fact safe to eat.
This level of food waste also has environmental implications because the bulk of uneaten food is left at landfills. When this food decays, it emits a greenhouse gas 30 to 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide— methane. Food is the most common landfill material and the methane gas produced as a result has detrimental implications for Earth’s environment. One third of the water, energy, and land used in the production of the crops is wasted. Agricultural secretary Tom Vilsack states that 70 times more oil has been used in the production of food that is later wasted than that of the 2010 oil spill of Deepwater Horizons.
In response to this waste, some organizations deliver some of their ‘imperfect’ produce to California food banks, instead of a landfill. In the last 10 years, California food banks have collectively distributed twice the amount of produce then they did a decade ago. However, the transportation of crops from farms to food banks does have a cost, providing little incentive for many companies to contribute.
California state-wide laws offer tax credits to companies that donate food, but Harold McClarty (owner of HMC farms) reasons that more financial incentives are necessary to further promote the limiting of food waste. This past September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared a national goal to cut 50% of America’s food waste by 2030.
Others have highlighted that another way to aid in cutting food waste could be to increase education in how to shop and cook efficiently. An organization known as Feeding Forward takes leftover food from large events and transfers that food to homeless shelters. The issue has also made its way to social media; Instagram accounts such as uglyfruitandveg promote the use of deformed produce.
M-A’s SEEDS (Students for Environmental and Educational Development Services) club is currently focusing on two issues, one of which is food waste & compost. Senior member Beethoven Gerber stated, “I don’t know if you have noticed all the compost bins around the school. We are the club that is in charge of that. We made all of the bins and are spreading awareness of [food waste].”
An easy way to cut down on food waste yourself is to eat leftovers as often as possible and
stay aware of the food you already have. A leftover turkey
dinner makes for a
delicious sandwich and leftover noodles taste great sautéed with some veggies and Parmesan.
Starvation and pollution could be mitigated if not solved, by taking steps to eliminate food waste.