Food prices around the world are predicted to rise dramatically as a result of climate change, a huge challenge for the most impoverished people in the world who already spend up to 75 percent of their income on food. Meanwhile in the U.S., we waste a shockingly high amount of food as Dana Gunders, a scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), details on Grist and on the NRDC’s site.
1. 40 percent of the food in the U.S. goes uneaten.
That means that, per person, more than 20 pounds of food produced in the U.S. is thrown out, a total equivalent to $165 billion. Households with children probably waste even more. NRDC notes that a study of British households found that those with children throw out 41 percent more food waste.
2. 10 percent of the U.S.’s total energy budget, 50 percent of U.S. land and a whopping 80 percent of the U.S. water supply are used for food production.
By throwing out so much food, we’re also throwing away valuable natural resources. Even more, wasted food just ends up in landfill which releases almost 25 percent of US methane emissions, according to the EPA.
3. Only 10 percent of surplus edible food in the U.S. is recovered.
For all the food the U.S. produces, one out of six people in this country still do not have a secure supply of food on their tables.
Yes, something is really wrong in our system of producing food and actually getting it to people to eat.
4. The average American wastes 10 times as much food as a person in Southeast Asia.
As Gunders emphasizes, this was not the case not too long ago, in the 1970s. While it is, well, depressing to think about how wasteful the U.S. has become — and at a time when campaigns to decrease and eliminate plastic bag use, to recycle and other earth-friendly measures have seen success — it is possible to change our wasteful ways.
5. Food waste has fallen by 13 percent in the UK in the past five years thanks to a public-awareness campaign.
The UK’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign shows that it is possible to cut down on food waste if we change our habits.
How to do this is not exactly rocket science. Noting that two-thirds of UK consumers throw away fresh fruits and vegetables (these are the types of food most likely to be wasted in general), the Love Food Hate Waste campaign calls for innovations involving changes in packaging, labels that indicate where it’s best to store certain foods and meal-planning suggestions.
U.S. supermarket chain Stop and Shop saved some $100 million after analyzing “freshness, shrink, and customer satisfaction in their perishables department,” says Gundar. Such studies are a key first step for businesses to understand how much food waste they are generating and to make changes.
So What Can We Do to Cut Down on Food Waste?
Efforts in the U.S. to cut down on food waste exist. But they are just the tip of the iceberg (or rather, of the landfill). The EPA has a program, Food Recovery Challenge, that is certainly in the right direction — it recognizes businesses that have taken steps to reduce food waste and promotes best practices — but a systematic approach is needed.
In Grist, Gundars calls on the U.S. government to undertake a far-reaching study about food waste in the U.S., establish national goals and take action. In addition to the sort of awareness of the UK’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign, Gundars highlights the need for the government to make laws with the goal of reducing food waste. For instance, small businesses could be given tax deductions for donating food; such a deduction expired in December of 2011 but could be restored if Congress passes H.R. 3729. In addition, farms could be offered tax credits for donating excess food produce to food banks (Arizona, California, Colorado and Oregon currently have laws for this).
National action is necessary but we can take small steps too, whether by buying fruits and vegetables that aren’t picture-perfect, getting a better grasp about expiration dates on food (Gunders writes that “use-by” dates “do not necessarily indicate food safety” and need to be standardized) and revamp our food buying and storing practices (the NRDC has information about leftovers and food storage containers).
An Oxfam report, Extreme Weather, Extreme Price, details how extreme weather (floods and droughts like the one that baked the Midwest this past summer and is still going on, with dire results for the corn crop) could drastically drive up food prices.
It’s not only ridiculous, but outrageous for us to be dumping so much food into the garbage as people around the world starve. How about making a small start by checking out some of NRDC’s tips for shopping wise before filling your grocery cart with food, almost half of which you’ll just find yourself filling your garbage can with?
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