Why Do Americans Waste 40 Percent Of Their Food, And What Can We Do About It?

Americans throw away nearly half of their food every year, waste worth roughly $165 billion annually, according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The report estimates that the average American family of four ends up throwing away an equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food. Even worse, there is evidence that there has been a 50 percent jump in U.S. food waste since the 1970s.

It’s especially troubling that at the same time, one in seven Americans, more than 46 million people, including 12 million children, don’t know where their next meal is coming from, according to a study by Feeding America.

Meanwhile, the rest of America continues to throw away unspoiled nutritious food. If we cut our food waste even by a third, there would be enough food for all those people who must rely on food banks and hand-outs to be fully fed.

Why Do We Waste So Much Food?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a typical American household discards 40 percent of fresh fish, 23 percent of eggs, and 20 percent of milk, in addition to plenty of fruits and veggies. We do this because we buy more than we can eat, so the food goes bad, or our meals are just too big to eat. We also swear too much by “sell-by” and “use-by” dates; these are not federally regulated and do not indicate safety, except on certain baby foods. Most foods can be safely consumed well after their use-by dates. (Here’s a guide to help you decipher what those labels mean.)

When I first moved to the U.S., I couldn’t believe how huge restaurant portions were. Clearly, these runaway portion sizes in the American food industry exacerbate the waste issue.”From 1982–2002, the average pizza slice grew 70 percent in calories. The average chicken Caesar salad doubled in calories, and the average chocolate chip cookie quadrupled,” the NRDC study reveals

As NPR reports, farming practices also account for some food waste. Peter Lehner, from the NRDC, explains that if food isn’t sold to the best buyer, it can end up in a landfill. “anywhere from 1 percent to 30 percent of farmers’ crops don’t make it to market,” says Lehner. “The prices for fresh fruits and vegetables can go up and down quite a bit, and farmers may plant thinking they will get one price, but, by the time harvest comes around, there’s another price, and it’s not even worth it for them to get to the market.”

It may also be that the food looks strange: a misshapen tomato or a funky-looking carrot. Apparently Americans like uniformity in their produce.

What We Can Do To Prevent Food Waste

We may not be able to change the way farmers grow and deliver their produce, but there are some new ideas in the works: last year a supermarket in France launched “Les Fruits et Lés Legumes Moches,” (Ugly Fruits and Vegetables), and it was a huge success. Following that model, this year will see the arrival of “Imperfect Produce,” a company that will deliver a box of ugly produce to your door at a 30% discount. The idea of taking excess produce to a food bank is also gaining ground.

As consumers, here are five things we can do today to reduce food waste:

1.  Avoid Throwing Food Away

You know, that bag of lettuce you forgot about at the back of the fridge, the leftovers from dinner last week that have started to grow blue mold, the half-onion you never used up. It all adds up. If you can compost your rotten produce, that’s great. But if not, then you are causing a problem. Food waste in landfills is the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste; once there, it decomposes and releases a large portion of U.S. emissions of methane, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

2.  Shop Wisely

Plan your meals out, make a list before you go shopping and stick to it once you get to the store. Resist impulse buys and buy from bulk bins. Be alert for marketing tricks that make you buy more food than you need. Food items may seem like a bargain, but they are no bargain if you end up discarding them.

3.  Prepare Smaller Meals

Get in the habit of fixing smaller portions. This will not only reduce food waste, but also shrink your grocery bills and slim down everyone’s waistline! If you are eating out, and there’s just too much food on your plate, ask your restaurant to pack up your extras so you can eat them later. Don’t forget about them, or you can freeze them if you don’t want to eat them immediately.

4.  Buy Strange-Looking Fruit

Really, does it matter if a tomato looks a little odd, as long as it tastes good? Many fruits and veggies that don’t look “normal” get thrown out. Go ahead and buy the slightly odd, but perfectly good, produce, at the farmer’s market or at the store, so it doesn’t go to waste.

5.  Use Your Freezer

Freeze produce and leftovers if you know you won’t get around to eating them before they go bad. Another idea: websites like www.lovefoodhatewaste.com can tell you what’s safe to freeze and also give you creative ideas for how to use anything that might go bad soon.

Lessen your “food-print” starting today!

 

104 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y5 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y5 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J5 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J5 months ago

thanks for sharing

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James Baret
James Baret3 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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James Baret
James Baret3 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla3 years ago

Yes, with no offense to anyone in particular, the US should be ashamed of this. There are millions of people starving and they waste food and resources, putting more pressure on the planet, not nice!!!!

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Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey3 years ago

Advertising and special offers like "buy one get one free" are another factor that increases waste as we buy more than we want to eat.

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Vikram S.
Vikram S3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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