In 2010 Americans tossed out an estimated 133 billion pounds of food that’s almost $1,600 a year for a family of four or $400 a year per person. That is equal to more than an average month’s worth of groceries. It is enough food to fill the Empire State Building 91 times and still have some left over.
Americans are wasting 16% more food today than they did a decade ago. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said Americans and consumers in other industrialized countries are wasting as much food each year as is produced in Sub-Saharan Africa in a year.World-wide nearly half of all food goes to waste.
While all this food is being wasted, 17.2 million households do not have enough food to feed everyone in the family. A total of 46 million Americans rely on food stamps—one in seven people. Congress is trying to cut food stamps drastically which will result in hunger in America at the same time a third of all our food is wasted.
Something is really wrong with this picture.
Food waste hurting the environment
Not only does it waste money in times of tight budgets, but the waste is hurting the environment.
Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe said that food waste is the single largest type of waste entering landfills. Decomposing food in landfills creates methane gas that is more harmful to the environment than CO2. Greenhouse gases contribute to global warming.
Furthermore, expanding landfills consume valuable land that could be used for growing food, or providing housing for our expanding population. And the trucks hauling this unnecessary food waste burn a lot of diesel fuel which also increases carbon pollution and congestion on our streets.
Another environmental consequence of wasting food is the energy wasted to produce it. That includes fuel for farm equipment and trucks that haul it, and water to wash it, and packaging. The extra fertilizer used on food grown for naught adds tons of pollution to our water which requires energy to purify it for human consumption. That adds greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere as well.
Pope Francis calls it stealing from the poor
In his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square Wednesday Pope Francis said that “Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry.”
The Pope blamed it on a culture of waste and consumerism have dulled the moral sense of humanity to the point that when “some homeless people die of cold on the streets, it is not news. In contrast, a 10-point drop on the stock markets of some cities is a tragedy.”
“Consumerism has made us accustomed to wasting food daily and we are unable to see its real value,” Pope Francis said, comparing this attitude to the frugality of “our grandparents” who “used to make a point of not throwing away leftover food.”
Government working on problem but consumers need to help
The EPA and the Department of Agriculture are working to reduce the waste from retailers and restaurants to bring the amount of wasted food in landfills down. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said his department will work with industry to make it easier for companies to donate misbranded meat and poultry, test a meat-composting program, and increase donations of edible food that may get discarded because of appearance.
There are things that individuals can do. They should be second nature, but obviously they aren’t. First do not buy food until you run out. Much waste comes from food rotting in the refrigerator or expiring on the shelf because we over buy. Secondly, only cook what you know the family will eat. Thirdly, eat leftovers.
Make sure that family members do not put more food on their plate than they will eat. Often eyes are bigger than the belly. There is no need for individuals to pile food on their plate. They can go back for seconds if they are still hungry.
Restaurants can do a great deal to help as well by reducing portion sizes. This would reduce food waste and help fight obesity as well. Restaurants can be more proactive donating food to charity that is still good but does not look fresh. Far too much of that food goes into the dumpster.
We all lose by wasting food so we need to take action to stop it.
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