I recently wrote a blog post about the huge issue of food waste for the Farm Together Now website, where I am guest-blogging. Though I wrote it for their blog, it is something I have been wanting to talk about on here for a while. I think the post is a great introduction to this relevant, fascinating issue (its importance, causes, effects, and solutions) so I definitely recommend you check it out here! It is a huge elaboration on a much older post about food waste and appreciating food. Below are a few thoughts surrounding my perspective on food waste that I didn’t express in the post for FTN.
I talk about a lot of different issues within the global food system on this blog, but I think food waste is the most universal and pervasive. Across all the different agricultural methods and models, throughout the whole system from production to consumption, we are wasting valuable, nutritious food that someone worked very hard to grow. Of course it is important to think about how we grow our food and which foods we choose to eat. But in a way, food waste permeates all other issues within the global food system. We can talk about GMOs and herbicide resistant crops; we can talk about the disappearance of the mid-sized farm; we can talk about industrial animal agriculture. In the background of all these issues there is always food waste. This idea is both scary and fascinating to me. So much money, energy, resources, work (and environmental impacts) are inherent in food production. While research is focused on more efficient use of these resources, food is meanwhile being wasted. Improvements in crop varieties and other technologies often do little to combat food waste, but many other diverse strategies at the consumer, producer, and policy levels are already making big differences. You can learn more about these in the post mentioned above. To stress the importance of food waste, here are some somewhat shocking (but also change-inspiring) statistics:
It is estimated that the U.S. wastes nearly 40% of its food and that the combined social, economic, and environmental costs of food waste total $2.6 trillion dollars worldwide, annually (according to this study in the Public Library of Science and this report from the Food and Agriculture Organization).
Likewise, it is estimated that just a 15% reduction in food waste in the U.S. could feed 25 million Americans and that America uses 25% of all its freshwater to grow food that ends up being thrown away rather than eaten (according to the same study mentioned above, cited in this report from the National Resources Defense Council).
Lastly, I want to remark on what I feel the Thanksgiving holiday represents in relation to eliminating food waste. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and I have grown to love it more as I have increasingly understood all the work that goes into producing food and how amazing food can be if prepared with care, savored, and shared. The value we place on food and our habits surrounding food play a huge role in the food waste issue, especially in developed countries where food waste happens mostly at the consumer level. I strongly believe that appreciating all the work and energy that goes into food (as we should do on Thanksgiving) helps to value food and pay more attention to our purchases and habits.
This may sound a bit cheesy and idealistic, and of course there are many other effective strategies we must also take in order to combat food waste. But as I like to say, “consumers are the greatest contributors to the food waste problem in developed countries, so we are necessarily a huge part of its solution.” Of all the food issues that we try to combat personally with our dietary and consumer choices, I think that food waste is the easiest one to fight directly in this way. There’s a lot of advice out there on specific strategies to avoid wasting food, e.g. this list from Kitchn. Here are a few tidbits from me: try to eat all your leftovers before going out to buy new food, trust your senses (sight, smell, taste) over the expiration date (which is an unregulated and often meaningless estimate), don’t go for the ridiculously huge bulk pack if you won’t eat it all, etc.
So enjoy your Thanksgiving and I hope you have a delicious, slow, thoughtful meal! And don’t waste any of that beautiful food- eat all the leftovers!
Thanks for reading,