Food Waste: Study Shows Americans Throw Away 40% of their Food

For years, we’ve been waging a tough war against the outrageous levels of food waste across the world. While we know the food we waste could feed hundreds of millions of people – and help curb greenhouse gas emissions in the process – we do very little to change the situation. According to a recent study published the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Americans waste up to 40% of their food. On a global level, the rates go even higher – about one-third of the food ends up in the landfill.

Food waste is an ugly part of the American culture, something that turned it into a ‘throw away culture.’ It comes at a high price, too. We don’t just waste money and time. It eventually take s a toll on our environment, as well. And the fact that our food waste is often rich in essential nutrients many people require in their diets – such as calcium, dietary fiber, and Vitamin D – does not make it better.

Waste Not Thy Food

While some supermarkets already encourage initiatives to eat “ugly” food (read more about this at the end of the article), the situation is still dire. If you need even more motivation to finally hop on the reduce-food-waste bandwagon, here it is. According to new research from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future, the U.S. is throwing away the equivalent of over half a day’s worth of calories and valuable nutrients per person. And this unfathomable waste repeats every single day of the year.

The research has also revealed that a great majority of the thrashed food is fruit or vegetable, which is the most nutrient-dense food at peak ripeness. In other words, we’re mostly wasting high amounts of healthy foods. That’s also because junk foods – high in fat, sugar, sodium, and “empty” calories – are so processed they are significantly less prone to spoiling. They sit longer on the shelves and, we might add, longer on the hips.

“Huge quantities of nutritious foods end up in landfills instead of meeting Americans’ dietary needs,” said Marie Spiker, the lead author of the study and a fellow researcher at the Center for a Livable Future. “Our findings illustrate how food waste exists alongside inadequate intake of many nutrients.”

Food waste is colossal problem, especially considering that many parts of the country and the world are fighting serious food deserts. Many urban or rural areas lack access to supermarkets and fresh, nutritious foods where. Processed foods, however, become increasingly accessible and, sadly, often more affordable.

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Why Do We Throw So Much Away?

And could reducing food waste represent a viable solution to our food scarcity issues? Roni Neff is the director of the center’s Food System Sustainability and Public Health Program and the supervisor of the study. According to him, people have the best intentions when they toss food out. However, they couldn’t be more wrong if they think food is no longer safe if it doesn’t look as fresh. Harvard University revealed in a 2013 report that Americans throw away unthinkable amounts of food simply because they’re confused about food expiration dates.

Neff thinks one way we could reduce food waste is learning more about when foods are no longer safe for eating. Many times, veggies and fruits are still edible even if they look bruised or less fresh. Perishable foods were a major part of the waste, which means people spend a lot of money to try and feed their family in a healthy way. Sadly, they then allow most of it to go straight to the landfill.

Neff admitted that not all food that is currently wasted could or should be recovered. However, the research serves as a reminder that a great deal of healthy, nutritious food ends up in the trash and not in people’s stomachs. Neff also thinks food recovery efforts are indeed valuable. But food recovery in itself does not get to the heart of the waste problem.

Food Waste Caused by ‘Aesthetic Preferences’

The study’s conclusions were based on USDA’s Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data on 213 goods. These highlighted 27 basic nutrients which go to waste per person per day in the U.S. Results showed the number of wasted calories is 1,217, over half of the recommended daily caloric intake (2,000 calories). The researchers also noted preventable food waste comes with the loss of 33 grams of protein, 5.9 grams of dietary fiber, 1.7 micrograms of vitamin D, 286 milligrams of calcium, and 880 milligrams potassium every day.

According to the researchers, the offenders also include our aesthetic inclinations. We are more likely to choose that perfectly round tomato or peach. As a result, the imperfect options often remain on the supermarket shelves – that is, if they made it off the farm at all. The study also points to the prevalent of extremely large portions. Just a single Cheesecake Factory meal, for instance, may exceed your daily recommended caloric intake by itself.

Other issues contribute to the argument, as well. Study researchers pointed out to supply chain management and the improper rotation of dairy products and perishable meat. Distributors and retailers also find it difficult to route near-expired food items from supermarkets to shelters and food banks.

Eating “Ugly” Food

A couple of years ago, a new trend hit America – eating “ugly” fruits and vegetables. Instead of purposefully seeking out perfect, unblemished produce, some people started to embrace less fresh fruits and veggies, too. Meanwhile, some manufacturers have also updated their “best by” dates in order to prolong the shelf-life of food products.

RELATED: [Food Waste in America: Statistics, Causes and Solutions]

Whole Foods Market is one of the supermarkets that started to purposefully sell “ugly” fruits and vegetables. They have partnered with Imperfect Produce to give a chance to food items that are a little less than gorgeous. Hopefully, this joint effort will help curb the U.S.’ huge food waste problem.

Rejected fruits and vegetables often wind up in landfills. If they’re lucky, people will use them for their compost piles. According to estimates, the U.S. wastes so much food each year that it could fill 44 skyscrapers with eatable food. Hopefully, the new food waste target – to reduce the problem by 50 percent by 2030 – will bring about some change.

Header Image: Gran Village

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Craig Scott
 

I love to spend all the time I can outdoors and find every excuse to leave my house. I write about everything about our planet and I edit even more of it. I hope you'll join me in making the Earth a cleaner and greener place!

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