Taking A Bite Out Of The Food Waste Problem

Eating right doesn’t meaning over-eating or wasting food.
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Are you bugged by the rising cost of food? Is there anything you can do? One simple solution: Waste less. According to new research by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans throw away 40 percent of food in the U.S., the equivalent of $165 billion in uneaten food each year.

Dana Gunders, NRDC project scientist with the food and agriculture program, explains, “As a country, we’re essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path – that’s money and precious resources down the drain.” Our present circumstances make it critical that we eliminate this waste now. Gunders continues, “With the price of food continuing to grow, and drought jeopardizing farmers nationwide, now is the time to embrace all the tremendous untapped opportunities to get more out of our food system. We can do better.”

NRDC’s brief — Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm To Fork to Landfill — looked at the entire food supply chain. Some of its key findings:

  • America trashes 40 percent of its food supply every year, valued at about $165 billion.
  • The average American family of four throws away an equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food.
  • Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste in U.S. landfills.
  • A mere 15 percent reduction in losses in the U.S. food supply would save enough food to feed 25 million Americans annually.
  • There has been a 50 percent jump in U.S. food waste since the 1970s.

Why The Waste?

Think about your typical grocery store. Would the produce section be as appealing if it were half empty? Shoppers like to see display bins piled high with fresh fruits and vegetables, not looking like they’ve already been picked over. Yet, keeping the bins stocked this way means much of the food is going to go bad before it can be sold. The NRDC found that grocery stores and similar food retailers thus lose about $15 billion every year, roughly half of the nationwide supply.

There’s a certain prestige associated with sitting down in an elegant restaurant to a sumptuous gourmet meal (read “tiny portions”) artfully presented (read “on oversized plates.”) But most of us, when we go out to eat, expect to come home at least comfortably full. Many restaurants ensure this by delivering obscenely large portions, sometimes two to eight times bigger than the government’s standard serving sizes, much of which either ends up on our already too large butts, or gets scraped off into the trash.

Remember as well that the more we waste, the more we have to produce. That means more farmland, more water for irrigation, more oil to run farm equipment and transport trucks, more greenhouse gas emissions.

Incidentally, while food waste isn’t strictly an American problem, it seems the rest of the world is doing a better job at preventing it. In January 2012, the European Parliament adopted a resolution to reduce food waste 50 percent by 2020, and designated 2014 as the “European year against food waste.” The U.K. has enjoyed a remarkable 18 percent reduction in avoidable food waste after an intensive five-year public awareness campaign called “Love Food Hate Waste.” Fifty-three of the leading U.K. food retailers and brands have adopted waste reduction resolutions.

Waste Not, Want Not

We can all do our part to reduce food waste. Be aware of how quickly different foods spoil. Don’t buy a dozen apples because they’re on sale if half of them will go rotten before you eat them. And don’t be afraid — or ashamed — of buying older fruits and vegetables that may have lost their looks but are still fine to eat.

Learn to love leftovers. Some meals actually taste better the next day; they’ve had a chance to marinade in their juices. And learn how to store leftovers so they stay safe, and how long you can store them. There’s little point in proudly storing leftovers until they morph into some unrecognizable fuzzy mass we’re afraid to touch, lurking at the back of the refrigerator.

An even simpler solution: Eat less! It’s not without cause that those in the western hemisphere are often viewed by the rest of the world as having too large hemispheres. For many of us, eating smaller portions, while it may take some getting used to, will also improve our health, reducing obesity and leading to fewer cases of diabetes and heart disease. We’ll be doing our bodies, our wallets, and our environment a favor.

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