June 23, 2008
Waste , Embarrassing Food Loss
A POUND of food for every American every day. That's the amount wasted in U.S. grocery stores, restaurants, cafeterias and home kitchens, a government study found.
It's happening while people around the world starve, and while food prices, gas prices, foreclosures and joblessness send more Americans to charitable food pantries. And the food banks are running out.
There are few studies on food waste, but in 1997, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that Americans threw out 96.4 billion pounds of the 356 billion pounds of edible food in the country - 27 percent of the available nutrition.
More recently, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that Americans generate about 30 million tons of food waste each year, about 12 percent of all waste materials. While Americans keep 62 percent of yard waste out of landfills, the nation keeps only 2 percent of food waste out of landfills.
Meanwhile, America's Second Harvest, a national network of 200 food banks, reports that food donations are down by 9 percent - yet the number of people looking for help has increased 20 percent.
There are efforts to recover edible food in the United States for people who most need it. Many major cities have food rescue organizations that do nearly all the work for cafeterias and restaurants willing to cover and sometimes refrigerate or freeze leftover pans of unserved food. City Harvest in New York and Manna Meal at Charleston's St. John's Episcopal Church are two examples.
There are efforts to compost food that isn't edible or save it for livestock. Some restaurants are serving smaller portions. Some college cafeterias have eliminated trays, which tempt diners to load up with things they don't need or want.
There's plenty of room for improvement. The Department of Agriculture estimates that recovering just 5 percent of food wasted could feed 4 million people a day. If Americans saved 25 percent of their wasted food, they could feed 20 million people.
Imagine one in four of the overripe bananas on each kitchen counter that went into the trash, or one in four trays of school cafeteria food left over at the end of each day, or one in four containers of unsold chicken salad at grocery store delis across the country.
Rising food prices create a new incentive for Americans to be more careful with their wallets and their food. Wasting less would be beneficial to society, even when food prices are cheap, even among people who can afford it.
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