Love food, hate waste
America famously is the land of plenty, but tragically, as illustrated in a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, is also the land of plenty of waste.
Even though about 15 percent of Americans do not have reliable daily access to food, the NRDC found that the nation discards 150 billion pounds of food every year - 75 million tons, or about 20 pounds per person, per month and roughly 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States.
Food waste, according to the study, has increased by more than 50 percent since the 1970s and is now the largest component of solid waste, generating 25 percent of the nation's methane emissions.
This isn't just a case of moldy uneaten lunches in the office refrigerator. It's a highly complex problem along every step of the production and supply chains, through the consumer. It involves everything from shaving down carrots to make "baby" carrots, to discarding fresh meat, seafood and poultry due to the misinterpretation of freshness dates on labels. It involves home consumers and restaurants, supermarkets and institutions.
And the waste has an exponential ripple effect through the economy and environment. Discarded food is worth as much as $165 billion a year and the study found that retailers lose about $15 billion a year due to unsold fruits and vegetables alone. And, since food growth, processing and distribution consumes 10 percent of the nation's energy, 50 percent of its land and 80 percent of its fresh water, vast amounts of wasted food mean vast amounts of wasted basic resources and the needless use of millions of pounds of fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals.
There is no magic formula by which the nation could produce and consume the "right" amount of food, of course, but there are ways to mitigate the vast amount of waste. One is to convert more wasted food into fuel, technology for which has advanced markedly in recent years, and pilot projects for which are under way around the world.
Technology also is being used in some areas of the United States to connect restaurants and food retailers with food banks, so that over-supplied products are consumed before their expiration dates rather than discarded afterwards.
Food waste long has been an issue in Europe, where costs generally are higher due to limited land area. In the United Kingdom a program called "Love Food Hate Waste," involving producers, distributors and consumers, has reduced food waste by 18 percent in just five years.
Regional and national programs in the United States, involving the entire food production, distribution and consumption chain, could produce similar results.