Food Waste in the U.S.

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There is no question that with a world population that is ever-increasing, there is demand for food unlike the world has ever seen before. Hundreds of millions of people go hungry every day due to inefficient allocation, which is difficult to solve on a global scale considering the wide ranges of development of earth’s countries. However, there is a much different problem in wealthier industrialized nations, and that is the amount of food that is never even consumed and ends up going to waste. For the sake of simplicity, I will focus directly on the United States, which is often named as the biggest waster of food in the entire world.

Some Statistics

The percentage of food that goes to waste in the U.S. varies from study to study, but estimates show that 30 to 40 percent of food in America goes to waste, and up to half of the produce never reaches consumer’s mouths. One study equates this to roughly 60 million tons of produce or 160 billion dollars. Such a large amount of waste can only be described as shameful, especially considering the fact that one in six Americans go hungry. A massive consequence of this is that most of this wasted food goes straight to the landfill to rot, unleashing greenhouse gases such as methane into the air, exacerbating the already massive problem of climate change. In fact, food waste is the single largest component of our landfills today.

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Why?

It is impossible to narrow the problem of food waste in America down to one single problem, as there are many. It should be noted that consumers are not solely to blame; producers account for a huge portion of the food that ends up being wasted. However, supply and demand more or less govern human behavior, and we must examine the demand side in order to determine why much of the supply ends up in a landfill before it ever has the opportunity to reach consumers. This leads to the problem that U.S. citizens (not unlike many other wealthy nations) has an obsession with the aesthetic of food. Consumers demand fresh, ripe produce free of bruises or blemishes. Consequently, a large amount of produce is never even shipped to retailers because it does not meet the criteria of how it should look. Even though many are realizing the benefits of eating locally and organically, it can be argued that some modern technology is actually making this problem worse instead of better; the culture surrounding Instagram and food is reinforcing the idea that food should be aesthetically pleasing. Another factor into why the U.S. wastes more food in any other country is that food is cheaper in the U.S. than basically every other country. One reason for this is the large subsidies that the government gives for crops such as soy. Because of this, food has become undervalued in American society and therefore leads to a certain indifference concerning food waste.

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Where do we go from here?

As problematic as the food waste issue is for the world, it has not gone unnoticed. Governments have begun to put plans into effect to attempt to minimize food waste. The Obama administration has put forth a campaign, putting the USDA and the EPA in conjunction with charitable contributions and the private sector with a goal in mind of cutting the food waste calories in half by 2030. Another smaller program based out of San Francisco sells produce that is perfectly good to eat, although blemished, at reduced prices. However, there are still many steps that need to be taken. The allocation of food needs to be changed, because it is ridiculous to think that the food in this country going to waste could more than feed the people in this country that do not eat enough. The huge issue of food waste as the major occupier of our landfills could be helped by an effective national compost system being established. Efforts are starting to integrate compost into our waste removal system, but in my opinion, composting should be mandatory for every household. We can also follow in the footsteps of other countries who have put strict policies into place. For example, France has mandated that supermarkets are not allowed to throw away food, but instead must either compost or donate it. Germany, on the other hand, has called for the reform of expiration dates. As one can see, there are many aspects of the food system that contribute to waste, and the answer can not be found by changing just one of these. There needs to be a multitude of changes taking place, from producers to consumers to the government, and we must all participate in order for these changes to take place.

Sources

Chandler, Adam. “Why Americans Lead the World in Food Waste.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 15 July 2016. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

Goldenberg, Suzanne. “Half of All US Food Produce Is Thrown Away, New Research Suggests.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 13 July 2016. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

Thompson, Derek. “Cheap Eats: How America Spends Money on Food.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

“USDA and EPA Join with Private Sector, Charitable Organizations to Set Nation’s First Food Waste Reduction Goals.” USDA. USDA, 16 Sept. 2015. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

Wee, Heesun. “We Chuck out 31% of Our Food Supply: How to Stop the Waste.” CNBC. CNBC, 04 Mar. 2016. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

 

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Food Waste in the U.S.

  1. amyquandt

    What do you think are the major reasons that we waste so much food in the United States? How can this be reduced?

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    • I believe that one reason we waste so much food in the U.S. due to an aesthetic obsession. Consumers want their produce to be free of bruises and blemishes, and therefore neglect the “uglier” food even though looks have almost zero effect on quality. What many don’t realize is that even more of this “uglier” produces never even reaches the market and goes right to the landfill due to cosmetic standards. In addition, food in the U.S. is cheapest out of all the industrialized nations, which creates an undervaluing of food and an indifference to whether it gets thrown out. This can be reduced through food education and government and private sector programs. The programs from San Francisco and the Obama Administration are good examples of a start.

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