By: Melanie Forti, Programs Director

When browsing the aisle of our local grocery store we usually see a great abundance of beautiful, shiny and what society considers perfectly shaped fruits and vegetables.  However, did you know that 40% of the annual food production in the U.S. ends up in the trash? This translates into wasting an equivalent of $165 billion a year, or throwing away more than 20lbs of food per person every month.

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Shame on us!

Consumers demands for perfect produce affects every stage of our food system. To satisfy consumer standards, farmers have to throw away produce that is not pretty and shiny. In order to make up for the loss of income; farmers have had to resort to other options, like a secondary market, in order to sell the “ugly” produce that won’t make it to the supermarket stands.

Strict local health rules force restaurants to throw away large quantities of food every day as well. It may include what restaurant customers leave on their plates as well as quantities of prepared foods that no longer meet storage requirements. As a result, a single U.S. restaurant produces between 25,000lbs to 50,000lbs of garbage per year.

The amount of food wasted in the U.S and around the world is getting to a critical point because of consumers ridged grocery standards or impulsive practices.  A local farmer in California explained that if he would leave just one tomato in his stand it would stay there for hours or even would go to waste because no one would buy it.  However if he placed 3 or more tomatoes at his selling stand they would sell right away.  The impulse of buying is making consumers buy more than what they can really eat (or afford for that matter).  Usually when a consumer sees only one product they tend to believe something must be wrong with that produce, if they see a plenitude of the same product they feel the impulse of buying it.

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According to the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) food waste has increased by 50% since the 1970’s and is now the largest solid waste contributor to landfills. EPA estimates that 33 million tons of unwanted food goes to our landfills per year. The food waste in our landfill breaks down anaerobically and produces methane. Methane is a natural gas than can become hazardous to our environment. Reducing methane emissions is important as we try to slow down human induced climate change.

While consumers and businesses are wasting food, many go to bed every night without having anything to eat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that in 2013, 49.4 million people lived in food-insecure households, among them are farmworkers, who are the ones harvesting our nation’s food. We can’t allow their work to go to waste as well, risking their health and working in extreme conditions.

What can we do?

As consumers and businesses, we all can be a bit more forgiving. Next time we visit our local grocer, or visit a local stand or farmers market don’t ignore that ugly carrot left behind.

Individuals and family members can  help reduce food waste by planning their weekly meals. Restaurants can start by measuring and limiting the amount of food what they toss. Policy-makers can take this matter into their own hands as an opportunity to create effective laws to provide healthy food access to people.  Everyone should be more aware about the challenges of farming and accept that no two apples are alike.

If you’re looking for a starting point, EPA offers a toolkit to help reduce food waste. Click here to learn more about it.

Food waste is everyone’s responsibility.  Being more conscious and reflective about all the food going to waste while many have little to nothing to eat everyday should help us improve our food waste practices.