How we throw away tons of food

By reading La Marguerite I came across a very disturbing fact : we throw each month a lot of food. And when I write we, I mean both Americans and Europeans.

This most disturbing fact – it concerns between a quarter and a third of the food we buy -occurs as in many less affluent countries there are riots of hunger.

I find it staggering that our societies have become so affluent that it can literally throw away tons of food each day.

According to the article by the New York Times :

Grocery bills are rising through the roof. Food banks are running short of donations. And food shortages are causing sporadic riots in poor countries through the world.

You’d never know it if you saw what was ending up in your landfill. As it turns out, Americans waste an astounding amount of food — an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, according to a government study — and it happens at the supermarket, in restaurants and cafeterias and in your very own kitchen. It works out to about a pound of food every day for every American.

(…) In 1997, in one of the few studies of food waste, the Department of Agriculture estimated that two years before, 96.4 billion pounds of the 356 billion pounds of edible food in the United States was never eaten. Fresh produce, milk, grain products and sweeteners made up two-thirds of the waste. An update is under way.

(…) A more recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that Americans generate roughly 30 million tons of food waste each year, which is about 12 percent of the total waste stream. All but about 2 percent of that food waste ends up in landfills; by comparison, 62 percent of yard waste is composted.

The numbers seem all the more staggering now, given the cost of groceries and the emerging food crisis abroad.

After President Bush said recently that India’s burgeoning middle class was helping to push up food prices by demanding better food, officials in India complained that not only do Americans eat too much — if they slimmed down to the weight of middle-class Indians, said one, “many people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plate” — but they also throw out too much food.

And consider this: the rotting food that ends up in landfills produces methane, a major source of greenhouse gases.

(…) The problem isn’t unique to the United States.

In England, a recent study revealed that Britons toss away a third of the food they purchase, including more than four million whole apples, 1.2 million sausages and 2.8 million tomatoes. In Sweden, families with small children threw out about a quarter of the food they bought, a recent study there found.

And most distressing, perhaps, is that in some parts of Africa a quarter or more of the crops go bad before they can be eaten. A study presented last week to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development found that the high losses in developing nations “are mainly due to a lack of technology and infrastructure” as well as insect infestations, microbial growth, damage and high temperatures and humidity.

(…) Food has long been relatively cheap, and portions were increasingly huge. With so much news about how fat everyone was getting — 66 percent of adult Americans are overweight or obese, according to 2003-04 government health survey — there was a compelling argument to be made that it was better to toss the leftover deep-dish pizza than eat it again the next day.

Of course, eliminating food waste won’t solve the problems of world hunger and greenhouse-gas pollution. But it could make a dent in this country and wouldn’t require a huge amount of effort or money. The Department of Agriculture estimated that recovering just 5 percent of the food that is wasted could feed four million people a day; recovering 25 percent would feed 20 million people.

After reading this article, I seriously wonder how much we as French people throw away. I guess we are below the above mentioned levels, but it is still a worrying matter.

The increase in prices of food will certainly solve the problem but, nonetheless it makes the mind wonder. And you, what do you think about it ?

6 thoughts on “How we throw away tons of food”

  1. I said this earlier on La Marguerite: My family does not throw food away. It’s a norm.

    Throwing food away is disrespectful to the people who’ve worked hard to get it on your plate. When you waste food, you’re wasting their time. You paid for it, sure, but I don’t think there are a lot of people who want to be paid for something that isn’t used.

    Imagine that you were a tomato plucker, and while you were working, would realize that every one in four tomatoes you’re plucking with your very hands would be thrown away. Not very motivating, is it?

    Lessons like this could and should be taught on schools.

    To put it in more general terms: Being rich does not entitle you to waste.

  2. I totally agree with you Meryn…

    It is not because one is ” rich ” that he/she could waste. We are playing a dangerous game : we produce more and more and this have effects on the quality of our soils and environments.

    If people threw away less, we could produce less and thus respect more Nature. It might be a problem for farmers also. (less money as they produce less, but since prices are going up, that might counter balance that… )

    Anyway, time will tell how we will solve that issue, but I believe that the rise of food prices will decrease this phenomenom.

  3. It must be the fact that I grew up on a farm and that my mom would always make us eat what was on our plates (well, except for the lima beans – I hated those and spit them out) – I hate to waste food. I buy in small quantities so that I’ll be sure to use everything up before it goes bad. Maybe if we stopped thinking that buying large quantities saves us money, we’d end up spending less and wasting less.

  4. I couldn’t agree more.

    I guess the soaring prices of commodities and food will teach us that once again.

    On Lima beans : I don’t think we have them here… so I won’t tell you if I like them or not ^^

    Thanks again for your comment, looking forward to reading you again 🙂


  6. Pingback: The United States is a food wasteland :: Sustainable development and much more

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