Fast, cheap, and wasteful: Americans and food

food waste

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A past Earth Wise segment explored global food waste: worldwide some 30-50% of food produced is never eaten. This figure includes inefficiencies in harvesting, storage, and transport, among other things.

In the U.S., our situation is particularly bleak. On the way from farm to fork, some 40% of our food is wasted. We are a nation that refuses to buy imperfect produce, orders more than we can finish, and embraces ‘super-size’ convenience food.

Look in your fridge or pantry. According to a National Resource Defense Council study, most Americans toss a quarter of their household food purchases. This works out to 20lbs of discarded food per person each month. Or, for a family of four, several thousand dollars annually.

Part of the problem is that in the U.S. food is relatively inexpensive. For many, it’s become more convenient in excess. But the cost of our food waste comes with a huge environmental price tag.

In the U.S., half of our land, 80% of our freshwater supplies, and 10% of our total energy budget are dedicated to agriculture. And we collectively toss $165 billion dollars of food away each year.  Only 3% is composted.  The rest winds up in landfills, where it creates a quarter of our country’s climate-warming methane emissions.

Industries that profit from our over consumption are unlikely to promote food waste reduction. It’s up to consumers and NGOs to push for change. In the meantime, shop wisely, eat leftovers and less-than-perfect produce, and remember: ‘sell by dates’ are not expiration dates.


Web Links

IME Report

NRDC Report

Photo, taken on April 5, 2006, courtesy of Taz via Flickr.


Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.  Support for Earth Wise comes from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY, with partial support from the Field Day Foundation.




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