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Throw Away Culture: How the Food We Discard Comes Back to Bite Us

Throw Away Culture: How the Food We Discard Comes Back to Bite Us

Everyone wastes food, but for the individual it is a matter of volume and frequency. For every discarded loaf of bread and past date yogurt that may fall into obsolescence at the back of the fridge, there are a dozen eggs absent mindedly left in the trunk of a car, or a few pounds of ground beef fallen a few light shades of grey and turned out to the garbage in quick measure. Virtually every family, and every individual in these plentiful United States discards a fair percentage of their food; whether it has spoiled, or is just too much to consume.

For most people, this is but a mere blip in their path to consumption, but for all the number crunchers out there, this is a huge, overwhelming problem. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Loss Project, Americans are inclined to discard more than 25% (approximately 25.9 million tons) of all the food produced domestically (some estimates are significantly higher). The tragedy of this substantial waste does not end once the potential for consumption has met its end in the garbage bin. Once all of this decomposing food hits the landfill (whether it is contained in plastic bags or not) it continues breaking down and creating large amounts of methane gas, which is well known for contributing to the long dreaded greenhouse effect. Now comes news (appropriate in light of the recent gulf oil disaster) from the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin, more energy is wasted in the perfectly edible food discarded by people in the US each year than is extracted annually from the oil and gas reserves off the nation’s coastlines (this figure does not take into account waste on farms and from fishing). This loss is more than, and effectively nullifies, any contemporary attempt or strategy to improve national energy efficiency.

Haunting stuff to be sure, and just the kind of news that makes one feel utterly hopeless (or sadly motivated to start eating one’s own waste). However, while we may never become a zero-waste society, recent inroads in community composting, food recovery, gleaning, and rampant “freeganism” have been, and will hopefully continue to, make an impact on that 25% of waste. If motivated enough to cut our food waste in half we would likely extend the lifespan of landfills by decades and reduce soil depletion and the application of untold tons of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, but this requires cleaning our plate in a radically different way.

Related:
50 Ways to Never Waste Food Again
Don’t Let Good Produce Go Bad
The Thrifty Kitchen: Cooking with Fruit and Vegetable Scraps

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

152 comments

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12:51PM PDT on Sep 5, 2012

If America really wanted to waste less food it would! But the big industries have you in hand.
Consume, consume,consume more and more! till we all die in waste(((

9:15PM PDT on Aug 17, 2012

noted

11:13AM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

Chop up banana skins and put them round your roses. This works really well.

8:26AM PDT on Mar 30, 2012

the more we think about it, the better the odds we'll reduce our quantities

3:51PM PST on Feb 8, 2012

ty

3:28AM PST on Dec 20, 2011

Thanks.

3:08PM PDT on Oct 20, 2011

Thank you

11:36PM PDT on Oct 16, 2011

Thank you.

11:07AM PDT on May 24, 2011

Think I just cycle back via the links, can't believe the article and comments on the last post. Some people should just spend 50% less on food and they will not have this problem.

11:02AM PDT on May 24, 2011

I've never understood how much food is wasted, I certainly know I don't have that problem.

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Some say you are what you eat!

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