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Wasted Food and Food Insecurity

December 02, 2022 by FreshByte Software

One of the traditions Americans celebrate during the holiday season is sharing bountiful meals with families and friends, yet some in our society will go hungry despite an enormous amount of food waste in our country.

“1 in 8 Americans experience food insecurity while $200 billion is being spent on food that will never be eaten. That’s billions of pounds of food wasted, instead of going to those who need it,” says the nonprofit Rescuing Leftover Cuisine.

Almost 40 Percent of U.S. Food Supply is Wasted

Food waste is much more than just table scraps tossed in the kitchen bin or put down the sink disposal after dinner, but according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food waste is estimated at between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply in the U.S.

This estimate, based on estimates from USDA’s Economic Research Service of 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010 – figures that have only increased over the last dozen years.

This amount of waste, the USDA says, has far-reaching impacts on society:

  • Wholesome food that could have helped feed families in need is sent to landfills.

  • Land, water, labor, energy, and other inputs are used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, storing, and disposing of discarded food.

“About 40 percent of food produced, processed, and transported in the U.S. is wasted and ends up in our landfills. Wasted food is a drain on our natural resources, our wallets, and our communities,” says Rescuing Leftover Cuisine.

Food Waste 101: The (Rotten) Facts

Much of the food waste in the U.S. ends up in our landfills, many of which have reached or are approaching capacity.

“Over a third of the world’s food that’s produced gets lost or wasted each year. This happens while over 820 million people worldwide are affected from hunger. Some of this food, particularly in the United States, often ends up in our landfills emitting greenhouse gases, and taking forever to decompose,” says EcoWatch.

If you have ever spent any time at all near a landfill, you know the issue of food waste, literally, stinks as rotting food forms mountains of waste.

EcoWatch says food waste facts include:

  • Half of all produce is thrown away in the US because it is too ‘ugly’ to eat. This amounts to 60 million tons of fruit and vegetables. ‘Ugly’ fruit and vegetables make up a third of all wasted food.

  • In Europe, 40-60 percent of fish caught are discarded because they do not meet supermarket quality standards. Nearly 50 percent is discarded in the United States.

  • A survey conducted by Respect Food reported that 63 percent of people don’t know the difference between “use by” and “best before” dates. “Use by” dates indicate perishable items. “Best before” can be eaten after the given date but won’t be at its highest quality.

  • Food waste is the No. 1 material in US landfills, accounting for 24 percent of all municipal solid waste.

  • When the food in landfills rots, it produces methane, which is one of the most powerful greenhouse gas emissions. About 6 to 8 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food.  

  • Food losses translate into lost income for farmers and higher prices for consumers, giving us an economic incentive to reduce food waste.

Food Waste is an Economic and Natural Resource Drain

Food waste affects all Americans, no matter how full their refrigerators or freezers are because it is a drain on the U.S. economy as well as its detrimental effects on precious natural resources.

“As a nation, our taxes subsidize a large portion of our food production. Why waste our money?” asked Rescuing Leftover Cuisine. “10 percent of the U.S. energy budget is spent transporting food of which we still waste 40 percent. Nationally, we spend hundreds of billions of dollars growing, processing, and disposing of food that is never eaten.”

As far as natural resources, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine reports that:

  • Half of the U.S Land, 80 percent of freshwater, and 10 percent of the energy budget is spent bringing food to our tables.

  • Wasted food in landfills contributes to methane emissions that are 30 times worse than CO2.

Americans concerned about sustainability and the future of the planet, have three opportunities daily – breakfast, lunch, and dinner! – to reduce and eliminate some of this carbon footprint caused by food waste.

Solutions to Help with Food Waste

There are solutions being put into practice on national, regional, and local levels to combat food waste.

Here are some of them:

  • On a national level, companies such as Imperfect Foods offer food that has been rejected by mainstream outlets but is perfectly still good to consume. The company estimates that one year as an “Imperfect shopper” means:

o   288 to 384 pounds of food recovered

o   9,000+ gallons of water conserved

o   38 hours of time saved

o   192 to 288 pounds of CO2 conserved

  • On local levels, groups like Rescuing Leftover Cuisine match food donors to nonprofits feeding the food insecure in their communities. Diverting just 15 percent of currently wasted food could bring the number of food-insecure Americans down by 50 percent, according to the USDA.

  • Other groups leading the effort to reduce food waste and help feed the hungry include:

o   Feeding America

o   412 Food Rescue

o   Food Recovery Network

o   City Harvest

o   Food Rescue US
o   Second Servings

"It's like going to the grocery store and filling your cart with three bags of groceries, and on the way out the door, dumping one in the trash," said Barbara Bronstein, Second Servings' founder, and president of food waste in the Houston area. "It makes no sense."

Non-Traditional Methods to Tackle Food Waste

There are also non-traditional methods to tackle food waste such as turning it into energy.

“Many might not think of it, but food waste can also be turned into renewable energy and several large companies over the years have signed on to do so,” says EcoWatch.

Other uses for food waste include:

  • Livestock Feed: This can help reduce feed costs and disposal costs for farmers

  • Gleaning: Collecting excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers' markets, grocers, restaurants and other sources to provide to those in need

  • Composting: Recycling food waste and other organic material into valuable fertilizer

  • Culinary Solutions: Some restaurants are focusing on how to turn their waste back into edible creations

What the Average Grocery Shopper Can Do

There is action that the average grocery shopper can do to help fight food waste. EcoWatch says these six steps can help:

  1. Take inventory of your pantry and refrigerator before you go shopping so you do not overbuy or stock up on unnecessary items.

  2. Create a meal plan so you can purchase ingredients appropriately.

  3. Buy “ugly” foods of all shapes and sizes that other shoppers pass on (Hint: They will still taste the same!)

  4. Properly store your food for maximum freshness.

  5. Repurpose vegetables “past their prime”, putting them in soups, casseroles, and other dishes.

  6. Compost your leftovers instead of sending them to the landfill.

Tags: Lifestyle

FreshByte Software

Written by FreshByte Software

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