Please Buy That Funny-Looking Apple
Every year 33 million tons, or 40 percent of the food in America, is thrown away. That number is so huge it’s hard to put it into context. Let me help:
It means that 1,400 calories per day, per person end up in the trash. That’s 150 trillion calories being wasted each year—enough food to feed 2 billion people.
That statistic becomes even more disturbing when paired with the fact that 14.5 percent of U.S. households, or about 49 million Americans, don’t have enough to eat.
So if the numbers say we could feed all the hungry people in America four-fold with the food we throw away, why hasn’t that happened yet?
Mainly because wasting food is deeply ingrained in our lifestyle. It happens at every step of the production process and the blame lies with both individual consumers and large food service providers like restaurants and grocery stores. Customers don’t want to buy anything but the freshest, most appealing foods regardless of their edibility. And stores know it: the USDA estimates that supermarkets lose $15 billion annually in unsold produce even after rejecting large quantities from farmers. Stores and restaurants also encourage waste by promoting sales that make consumers buy more than they need or serving impossibly large portions.
According to a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), even food banks and charities sometimes have to reject food donations when they receive an influx of far more than they are able to use.
The report also acknowledges expiration dates as a major issue. The dates often refer to quality, not safety. In fact, most food is still edible after its expiration date and stores are legally allowed to sell it, but consumer fears leave stores no choice but to throw it out.
In a featured story in Bread’s 2013 Hunger Report, José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) , suggests the key to reducing waste is changing people’s perceptions about food through education.
"In industrialized countries, the focus should be on food and nutrition education to reduce waste," he writes. "Per capita waste by consumers is between 95 and 115 kilograms a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia each throw away only 6 to 11 kilos a year."
It's time that we embrace buying imperfect produce and research when food actually goes bad—hungry people are depending on us.
Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University.
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