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5 Reasons That More Than Half of the Nation’s Produce Goes to Waste

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  • December 23, 2012
  • 10:00 am
5 Reasons That More Than Half of the Nation’s Produce Goes to Waste

I hate wasting food. I’m one of those moms who’s made a habit of assembling complete meals for myself out of my kids’ leftovers. As a nation, we have no business wasting 40 percent of our food supply. That, remarkably, is the volume that goes uneaten — of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, meat and seafood — in a time when 45 million Americans are on food stamps. As the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) notes, it’s also a “massive waste of the resources required to produce that food.”

What are we wasting the most? The very foods that we’re supposed to be eating the most. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 52 percent of the country’s fruits and vegetables goes to waste somewhere along the way from field to table. 20 percent doesn’t even make it off the farm, though not a lot is known about why.

The NRDC undertook to find out and commissioned a survey of a small sample of 16 farmers and distributors in the Central Coast and Central Valley of California. Here are five reasons they say that a lot of their produce becomes garbage:

1. Imperfect product: A lot of perfectly edible produce won’t get harvested or make it to market simply because it doesn’t look perfect. Looks aren’t everything, don’t judge a book by its cover, appearances can be deceiving. This is an area in which consumers can take some action, says the NRDC, simply by showing businesses that we’re willing to buy produce that isn’t exactly “up to grade” on the outside as long as it’s good to go on the inside.

2. Fluctuating market prices: Low prices can mean that the costs of harvesting a crop and getting it to market exceed what the grower would make from the sale. In that case, the grower may decide to leave whole fields unharvested — known as “walk-bys” in the industry.

3. Overplanting: Growers would rather overplant their fields than come up short for their buyers, who expect a certain volume of product and may otherwise take their business elsewhere. Other markets are sought for the surplus, but growers may not find any. Prices, moreover, may be driven down as a result.

4. Labor shortages: The growers surveyed say that this is becoming more of a problem. Without the hands to help harvest the fields, they are forced to watch their crops go to waste.

5. Shorter shelf-life and spoilage: As noted in the NRDC report, “the costs and logistics of ensuring that products remain refrigerated (which extends a product’s life) make donating or finding other markets for produce more difficult, time-sensitive, and costly than, for instance, surplus clothing.”

The NRDC outlines a few solutions, which involve governments, businesses and consumers alike. Governments might, for example, locate secondary markets, including schools and other public facilities, for surplus as well as off-grade produce. Businesses might be more flexible with the orders they place, requesting “plums or other best stone fruit” rather than “plums” alone. And consumers might overlook a few blemishes and bumps on their fruits and vegetables. As one farmer lamented, “If we picked our friends the way we selectively picked and culled our produce, we’d be very lonely.”


Related Stories:

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Major UK Corps Agree To Slash Food Waste

5 Facts About the Mountains of Food We Waste

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11:32AM PDT on Apr 20, 2013


8:54AM PST on Feb 7, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

5:19AM PST on Jan 15, 2013

Don't be wasteful

5:24PM PST on Jan 11, 2013


11:22AM PST on Jan 7, 2013

I can't understand the need of the general public for 'perfect' fruit and veg.
Everyone knows that the heirloom tomatoes with split, brown shoulders taste the best and yet even our local farmers are planting the 'orange rubber balls' to sell at the markets. I can't wait to clean up our veg garden (neglected last summer because of a fallen tree) to plant our own ugly, warm, delicious tomatoes, peppers, bean and cukes.

9:28AM PST on Jan 7, 2013

Shame!!!! You are killing the planet!!!

12:57AM PST on Jan 3, 2013

(cut off)............What I was referring to previously was a "set" thing and the waitress would just keep bringing another plate of the same food to you when you were done with the present one, but always the same food. Example..........Monday is "fish & chips" night, Tuesday is "Taco night", etc. The restaurant that had this (my neighborhood one) discontinued it some time ago. I remember sending my grandson with money on Monday since he was visiting and loved their fish & curly fries, and I didn't want to go, but asked him to bring me an order of fish when he came home. He returned & said they wouldn't let him take anything with him. I was "bummed". Oh, well, it was good while it lasted. I know Olive Garden still does this to some extent. When they have the "endless salad & bread stick" thing, they keep bringing more as long as you want it. My daughter took me there for my birthday and I love their "house soup" so I brought home half my "entree" and an entire bowl of their "house soup" as I'd asked for another bowl when they brought my entree and couldn't eat it.

12:50AM PST on Jan 3, 2013

"We have that here also, since at most buffets people take extra with the intention of taking it home.. ".............Lisa, with all due respect, I disagree with you on this, completely. Where I live, they have the "Country Buffet", the Mongolian Buffet (and other names for the same type food, served in the same manner), and Chinese Buffets. I've yet to see a single one allow anyone to take home what they don't eat unless you stuff food in your purse, nor will they give you a "doggy bag" when asked. You serve yourself and hopefully will not take more than you can eat, but whatever is left uneaten is scraped off into containers like trays by the table staff. I've taken my grandsons and they have always had bigger eyes than stomachs, headed for dessert stuff first, and yes, left uneaten food. At no time could any of it be taken out of the restaurant when we left. I'm sure that is for a reason. If the dinner menu is a flat $12, then people would bring in paper bags and take home enough food to feed themselves the next day, maybe, or taken home for another family member. I'm sure many people tried to do just that.

I DO like your idea of paying less for a slightly smaller portion and more for the larger. I think when you have a buffet, it's impossible to regulate how much food a person takes to put on their plate, and you can keep going back for more or to try different things. What I was referring to previously was a "set" thing and the waitress would just keep bri

4:38AM PST on Jan 2, 2013

Thanks for the article.

12:57AM PST on Jan 2, 2013

We have that here also, since at most buffets people take extra with the intention of taking it home.. a few newer restaurants have implimented a new menu where you can order as much as you want for less money (it will be a smaller portion of the original meal) but you can order much more than you would normally.. but whatever you do not eat you need to pay extra for... and you cannot take home leftovers. that way people would not order more than they are prepared to eat.. they also get a chance to try loads of items from the menu whilst paying less than ordering it through the normal menu. its really good i think.

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