The Food Waste Food Insecurity Paradox
November 21, 2014 by Victoria F. Roth
Many of us hear the word ‘waste’ and automatically think ‘waist,’ that pesky spot around our mid-section that plagues our stalwart efforts at looking fit! But in the realm of food insecurity, WASTE is inarguably its own plague in our world’s collective efforts to keep its food supply, people and the environment fit. And surprisingly, the link between food waste and the growing waistlines of those who are food insecure is stronger than you’d think.
As a founding member of ATE, I decided to investigate the challenges around food waste, understand what’s contributing to the enormity of the problem, and share my own discoveries.
Following are some of the more sobering statistics with their related links should you want to dive deeper into the issue. Alternatively, you may be moved to dumpster-dive after reading this post.
- THE LAND OF THE FREE & THE HOME OF THE WASTE: Americans waste 30 to 40 percent of perfectly good food. That’s about 20 pounds per person per month—160 billion pounds a year—totaling approximately $165 billion annually!
- VEGETABLE VULNERABILITY: More than one-third of fresh vegetables in supermarkets, restaurants and households go uneaten. Meanwhile, the USDA estimates 23.5 million people live in food deserts with little-to-no access to fresh fruits and vegetables. (Which may explain some of the waste-waistline connection mentioned above.)
- GREENHOUSE GASSES: More food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream. In 2012 alone, more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated, with only five percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting—contributing to about 20 percent of methane emissions.
- SELL BY, SMELL BY: “Most of the food [we] buy comes with a little “sell by” or “best by” date stamped on it. But these dates are—essentially—made up. Nobody regulates how long milk or cheese or bread stays good, so companies can print whatever date they want on their products.”- Rose Eveleth for Smithsonian.com (March 28, 2014). In fact, only infant formula is regulated by the USDA. As for meat safety, it boils down to proper storage and some rules of thumb. For everything else, experts say the sniff test is your best bet.
- THE SINGLE LARGEST WASTERS OF FOOD: People who live alone waste 45% more food per person, than non-singles.
- TURNING THE PAGE: If you’ve read this far (thank you!), and you’d like to curb your own food waste habits, pick up a copy of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food and What We Can Do About It by Jonathan Bloom, who also blogs at www.wastedfood.com.
So what’s the take-away? Food waste occurs at every link in the food chain: from seed to farm to transport to market (supermarkets, restaurants, schools and hospitals) to home. It’s a huge challenge—in fact a priority—for the government, as well as the public-private sector, where mandates and levies are increasingly being implemented to drive change and accountability.
New York City, for example, is piloting a voluntary brown bin program (for food and green waste) among 70,000 homes across the five boroughs, and Massachusetts has taken major action against supermarkets and larger institutions with the goal of transforming waste to energy.
Certainly there are small changes WE can make to lighten the load, ranging from planning to portion control to donating to composting—rather than tossing.
Over the next series of blog posts, I’ll be reporting on my own food shopping, preparation, consumption and storage—to raise awareness and offer some practical guidance to those who want to reduce their own impact. In the last entry, I’ll review some creative products and organizations that are making a real, wonderful difference.
Food waste reduction should be our common goal as individuals, as New Yorkers and as a nation of eaters!
How much food did you throw away today?