You may have seen news yesterday about a just-released report from the Natural Resources Defense Council on food waste. I read the full report – only 26 pages, and eminently readable. Here’s a taste (!) of it:
“Food is simply too good to waste. Even the most sustainably farmed food does us no good if the food is never eaten. Getting food to our tables eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. That is more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. Not only does this mean that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also 25 percent of all freshwater and huge amounts of unnecessary chemicals, energy, and land. Moreover, almost all of that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills where it accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions. Nutrition is also lost in the mix—food saved by reducing losses by just 15 percent could feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables.”
I was appalled at how much food those other people waste and at the environmental and human costs involved. “How can they pay so little attention? How can they be so wasteful? Don’t they know that children are starving somewhere?”
And then, there I was yesterday afternoon, standing at the kitchen sink sorting through the bag of fresh cherries I had bought last week (on sale!). I had forgotten them, buried in the back of the produce drawer, and half of them were beyond salvaging. So, a vivid reminder of Pogo’s wisdom, “We have met the enemy and [it] is us.”
The NRDC report notes that the waste comes at all stages of food production. Too much is left in the fields for a variety of reasons. Some spoils during distribution or is not pretty enough. A lot gets thrown out by grocers, restaurants and other points of sale. And way too much gets wasted after it comes into our homes, for reasons ranging from “poor visibility in refrigerators” (NRDC’s tactful way of commenting on our fridge management) to confusion over label dates (did you know that “use by” dates do not indicate food safety?).
The report also notes a host of ways to reduce this waste of precious natural resources, including a lot that we as individuals can do. Check out the full report for some suggestions. I started yesterday by getting the surviving cherries ready to eat, along with some strawberries and grapes that were also suffering from “poor visibility”.
–George Reed, Executive Director