“At one time or another, we have all thrown away food. Maybe you purchased too many eggs from the grocery store and they have reached their expiration date or maybe you have simply forgotten about that loaf of bread in the back of the pantry. But, did you know that nearly 40% of the food in the United States is never eaten? In fact, Americans wasted 33.79 million tons of food in 2010 alone. That is enough to fill the Empire State Building 91 times!”
The above quote is not far-reaching but rather an everyday reality. Granted, the data is a decade old, but according to a Guardian report released in 2016, some 60 million tons worth of produce is now being thrown away annually in the US – almost twice as much as in 2010. Clearly, we have a problem.
In 2018, I decided to be more cognizant of my actions concerning food and, either inadvertently or intentionally, found myself in conversations surrounding food and waste. Yes, being a mom and working to improve the lives of farmworkers absolutely played a big part in my decision. Doing this work for the past 8 years has provided me insight into a world I knew very little about. And, while I am fortunate enough to have food to eat every day, I’ve also been on the other side wondering if I would be able to put food on the table.
It’s no secret that the United States, like many countries in the world, is a huge producer of food waste. About 20 percent of that stems from products not meeting grading standards aka “ugly” produce. (Here are 10 facts pertaining to food waste around the world.)
Oftentimes when we examine this topic it is from the point of view of just that: wasted amounts of food. I grew up being told there were starving children in Africa and that’s why I should clean my plate. But what about the squandered energy that goes into making that food, the people hours (labor) of planting, harvesting, applying pesticides, packing and transporting; the natural resources such as soil, water, and fertilizer before it ever makes its way to a plate. The U.S. has many laws prohibiting the sharing of food not being consumed, but in other countries, if you don’t finish the food on your plate, it’s unthinkable to just toss it out like rubbish. Someone would gladly receive that food.
We live in a time of excess and access. There are big box stores and online shopping that cater to our every whim but not necessarily our needs. Yes, there have been movements in the past decade to remind us to shop at our local mom and pop grocers or specialty shops and for neighborhoods to embrace the idea of buying only what you need at your local farmer’s market as oppose to shopping for the month. I just wanted to issue a challenge to you individually to think about your part in all of this and perhaps make a small change in this new year.
Food waste – or, better yet, food stewardship – is another link in the food chain. We can all do our part from building proper infrastructure when developing cities and changing existing laws, to creating programs that collect food waste and turning it into food for animals.
On the micro-level, think before you buy or place that extra piece of fruit on your plate at the buffet. Ask yourself, Am I going to eat all of this? If not, order the half portion or take one piece and go back for seconds. I know we tend to think I’m just one person or can something so small really have an effect, but the answer is yes. Remember, we as consumers dictate the market and the trends that we see in our everyday lives. All-you-can-eat buffets and big box stores are relatively new in the grand scheme of things, so we do have the power to change how things are done.
Just a little food for thought.
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