Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Green Living Feature of the Week - Wasted Food

I recently came across an enlightening blog, "Wasted Food," by way of Sharon Astyk's blog, "Casaubon's Book."  The author, Jonathan Bloom, has researched this topic for almost 5 years, and is currently writing a book on wasted food in America.  On some level, I'm sure we all realize that a significant amount of food is wasted.  However, after seeing the details, it's the magnitude of the waste that is so shocking. 

Bloom cites a study that shows that in America, we waste around 40% of the food that is produced for consumption.  WOW!  The percentage may seem unbelievably high, until considering that it refers to a broader picture than just consumer waste.  In addition to the food we waste as consumers, the figure also includes waste in production and distribution chains, stores and restaurants.  A portion of crops raised never even gets out of the fields.  In stores and restaurants, items that are perfectly usable go into dumpsters when they reach a use-by-date, or develop the slightest blemish, or just to make space for new stock.  Since consumers are picky, it is understandable that retailers want to maintain stock that is the freshest and most attractive.  However, usable items could be donated, rather than wasted. 

Our culture is accustomed to relatively cheap, abundant food, making the significance of large-scale waste easier to overlook.  However, on closer examination, the effects are far-reaching.  If anything near 40% of the potential food supply is wasted, the ecological impact is huge.  Fuel and other resources are wasted to grow, package and transport food that is never consumed.  Additional pollution results from the needless consumption of these resources.  The wasted food ends up in landfills, further generating greenhouse gases.

Not the least of the issues related to waste is that the cost of raising food that is thrown away is included in the cost of all food, raising prices.  Inflated price may not have huge effect on all consumers, but it is a big deal to the poor.  And in the poorest nations, a slight cost difference may mean the difference between living and starving.

Personally, I try to minimize waste.  My family eats leftovers and makes every effort to use ingredients before they have time to spoil.  Looking at this issue more closely, I resolve to be even more careful about personal waste, and to support organizations that donate and participate in the "rescue" and use of surplus food.

I'm just scratching the surface of the information.  For more detail, check out this blog!


Brian said...

I saw this article a few weeks ago, which is related to the topic:


It would be interesting to see just how much reducing food waste might reduce food prices in that much of the food in the supermarket is derived from government subsidized commodity crops – which are tied to consumption of fossil fuels (not just for transportation but also for fertilizers), and antibiotics and growth hormones in the feed lots, and thus may have an impact on at least the oil and pharmaceutical industries. To me, it doesn’t matter if an item is free, and with an infinite supply, waste is waste and we should strive to reduce waste, regardless of potential economic consequences. Good post!

Vern said...

Brian, the article you noted was interesting. There is a similar story, about the "Secret Freegan" in Phoenix, in the Gallery tab of the Wasted Food site. But why should people even need to liberate good wasted resources from a dumpster? Your last sentence reduces the issue to its essence: resources simply should not be wasted. Thanks!

Just_because_today said...

I come from a developing country where nothing is wasted. I try to remain as waste free as possible. However, I wouldnt go as far as the ones who eat garbage to save eliminate the waste.

Vern said...

Personally, I have a certain revulsion to the idea of using out of a dumpster. However, it also seems like freshly-discarded, non-perishable items that are wrapped or boxed would be clean and safe. What really bothers me is that there is not an alternative to the dumpster. Relief agencies would be happy to pick up usable resources and prevent the waste.