Aren’t you glad you didn’t have to go pick, hunt or otherwise gather your breakfast this morning? You likely made one of two trips — to the cupboard or to the refrigerator/freezer. That’s because you likely have easy access to a big, bountiful grocery store that is always fully stocked with everything you need or want. Ever wonder how much of that food you see actually gets eaten?
How much of it is discarded? The numbers may surprise you.
It’s estimated that 30 to 40 percent of our food supply ends up in a landfill. In financial terms, it is estimated that thrown-out food costs $197.7 billion. Next time you look at that perfectly arranged tower of red tomatoes, imagine one-third or more of them rotting among garbage in a landfill. Think of all the work that was done to bring those tomatoes to the store.
Farmers tilled the land, planted the seeds, and fertilized and maintained the crops. Someone had to pick the tomatoes and package them. Trucks had to deliver them to stores, and employees had to arrange them in a nice display to sell them. It’s sad that all of that food goes to waste.
Not only that, but rotting food creates methane gas that causes greenhouse gasses and contributes to climate change.
Whose Fault Is It?
We are blessed in this country to have such a great amount of choices in what we can eat. Grocery stores compete with each other to serve our needs and get our money in return. Waste is an unfortunate byproduct of getting food from one place and eventually allowing us to eat it in our homes. Here are three parties that share the blame in this waste:
- Farmers: Farmers don’t even harvest about 7 percent of their crops each year. It’s hard to predict what the market will demand or whether frost or disease will strike. Farmers plant more in advance to deal with these types of issues.
Some crops are unpicked because they aren’t deemed appealing to consumers. Perfectly edible produce is left to rot because it is shaped funny or does not have the desired color. Food safety scares may keep certain crops from being marketable. Farmers have to plan ahead and deal with fluctuating demands
- Grocery Stores: Grocery stores are competing for your business. They want to make sure their food displays are well-stocked and anything you want is always available. This leads to overstocking, which leads to waste.
Grocery stores know consumers check sell-by dates, so they don’t want to have anything in stock that is past that date. Those foods are usually completely safe to eat, but the date suggests otherwise. It’s estimated that out of seven truckloads to arrive to the store, one full truckload ends up in a landfill.
- Consumers: Do you buy misshapen or unattractive fruit? Pay full price for items whose sell-by date has passed? Of course not. You work for your money and you expect to get quality goods for the price you pay. That bunch of bananas you bought looked perfect at the time, but how many did you eat before they turned spotted and unsightly? Did you find a use for them, or did you throw them away?
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Do you and your family clean your plates every night? Do you dine on leftovers, or do they end up in the garbage? Consumers waste food they pay for, too, so we are all partially to blame for the waste.
What Can We Do?
How can we reduce waste in our country? It’s impractical to just say quit wasting food, as our supply chain is set up in such a way that it is inevitable. But there are a few things we can do.
- Discount Items: Remember the day-old rack at bakeries? Food that is slightly out of date or not quite as attractive but still perfectly healthy can be sold at a discounted price instead of being thrown in the garbage. Stores may want to limit this so as to not create an unattractive environment, but there are many consumers who won’t hesitate to save some money.
- Donate to Charity: Grocery stores can gather up whatever food they were going to discard and donate it to worthy charities like Forgotten Harvest or Meals on Wheels. Stores need to make pickup simple and efficient for the charities. Charities have to make it possible for donations by freeing the grocery stores from liability. Stores would rather throw away food than be assaulted by frivolous lawsuits.
- Buy Direct: Instead of buying from a big grocery store, buy fruits and vegetables directly from local farmers. This keeps food from having to travel through the supply chain before it reaches your home. You will always need the stores, but many items can be found locally. They may even taste better.
- Composting: Stores can participate, but this is mostly a consumer action. Instead of throwing your spoiled or unwanted food in the garbage, compost it outdoors in a garden or designated area. This food will return to the earth instead of rotting in a landfill and creating methane gas. Try to buy what you need and eat what you buy. Obviously, that’s not always practical, so composting is a great option.
The good news is that we are a prosperous nation with an overabundance of food. The bad news is that we waste too much of it while others go hungry. We refer to such matters as first world problems, but we have a responsibility to do a better job managing our food supply and reducing our waste of it.