By Clara Prander ’22
Do you know just how much food we waste every year? Most people waste more food than they actually think. According to the US department of agriculture, we waste over one third of all food produced, something that is a big problem. Before COVID-19, it was estimated that 35 million people across America – including 10 million children – suffered from food insecurity.
That number is expected to increase to as much as 50 million people in 2022 due to the employment drop and financial fallout from the pandemic. With all of these people suffering from finding basic amounts of food, why do Americans waste so much food? Yes, every country wastes food, but America wastes the most. Compared to the rest of the world, food in the US is plentiful and less costly. This often contributes to a general sentiment of not appreciating or valuing it the way other communities around the globe do. Americans also have a culture of take-away, which leads to the food not being consumed completely. Due to this, leftovers or food scraps, that still could be consumed or composed, are being tossed away.
As I stated before, there are different reasons for this food waste. People are confused by food date labels; households toss leftover food; restaurants serve immense portions and then toss out their leftovers; grocery stores over-stock their shelves to look more appealing to customers; farmers are unable to sell produce that doesn’t look perfect… The list can go on for a long time. But it shouldn’t be this way! Getting to the bottom of what causes the food waste in America is a challenge and coming up with solutions to fix it is even more difficult.
Most of the wasted food ends up in landfills, where it just piles up on other food scraps and generates methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is up to 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. This severely damages the environment and the surrounding communities. The environmental impact of this is huge since greenhouse gasses contribute to increased climate instability. Just think about all the energy, water, and packaging used for the sake of you being able to buy an item. For what reason? If you just throw it away, the effort was just a waste (no pun intended).
So, what can we do to improve? It’s important to make the most out of the food and drinks we buy. Leftovers can be saved for the next day’s lunch. Keep track of a food’s best before label and consume it before it goes bad. We often mix up the Best if used before and Use by that’s on the food labels. Best if used before only describes quality and that the product may not perform as expected but is safe to consume, while Use By means that the product is perishable and/or has a food safety concern over time. We can also freeze food that can’t be eaten immediately but will go bad soon since the freeze keeps it fresh longer. If we have to throw out food, compost it. Composting is something that isn’t as integrated in the food system in the US as it should be. It recycles the food so that we just don’t throw it away. Composting is a natural process that turns food scraps and other compostable items into a fertilizer that can be used as soil etc. This way we can reuse and not just throw out the food we produce. It’s both good for the environment but also for your conscience of reusing what we have.