If you are like the average American and have had your office/group Christmas party already, then you probably threw away enough green bean casserole, store-bought sugar cookies and potato salad to fill a trash can.
Most modern American families tossed enough Thanksgiving leftovers to make the bellies of a third-world family bulge for a week.
About the only concern we have for the broccoli and ham leftovers is hoping the neighbor’s dogs don’t get into the garbage.
While it is most evident during the holidays, the problem of food waste is a whole lot bigger than what to do with week-old turkey.
According to a statement by the EPA and Department of Agriculture, “Food loss and waste in the United States accounts for approximately 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the overall food supply available to retailers and consumers and has far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation and climate change.”
The federal agencies called for a 50-percent reduction in wasted food by 2030. A sizeable portion of the waste are crops that go directly from field to dump, which brings up a tangled mess of issues like farm subsidies, trade and, oddly enough, what happens to ugly apples.
The USDA believes one driving force in the waste has been the stream of images of beautiful fruit/veggies dating back to the earliest days of color advertising that has left Americans squeamish of perfectly healthy potatoes or squash that don’t mature in the ideal shape/color. Most grocery distributors don’t even bring ugly fruit to market. Other than lightening up some on how we select produce, there isn’t much an average American can do to tackle the big picture of industrial produce waste.
On the consumer side, however, cutting down on food waste increases your bank account. The USDA estimates the average family trashes $1,500 to $1,600 in groceries every year.
In a simpler global market, one could pontificate about how all the wasted lettuce and tomatoes might feed the hungry. But the real obstacle isn’t cleaning our plates because there are kids starving in Korea - It’s the logistics of getting surplus food to hungry people that creates the challenge. You can’t easily bring ears of unsold corn from Kansas to downtown Atlanta.
It is a shame that so much food goes to waste while people go hungry and it’s encouraging to see the USDA recognizing the problem, even if the next steps aren’t obvious. They have calculated just 15 percent of the current waste would feed 25 million Americans - about 42 million Americans are judged “food insecure.”
A secondary effect of the wasted grub is landfill space. Food takes up more space in American landfills than any other items, according to the EPA.
It is disgraceful when you think of all the labor, time and resources that went into producing food and then think of all the additional, and thoroughly wasted effort, in hauling it to stores, only to have it then reloaded and hauled to a dump.
On a personal level, calculate your loss of time/money going to the store, buying something, letting it crowd the fridge for a while, then putting it in a garbage bag and hauling it to the curb or dump and paying to dispose of it.
To cut down on waste at home, the USDA offers some obvious suggestions involving lists and honest assessments of your family’s meal habits. Plenty of advice can be found online, but nothing you wouldn’t come up with on your own if you spot a problem in your cupboard and fridge.
Just think what the forefathers in these Appalachian foothills would think if they knew their descendants were filling trash cans with food they paid for but never got around to eating before it went bad?