Food waste in America
By Cinthia Jahnsen
Ok. Here’s the deal. I think we all love going to an all you can eat buffet. What can be better than endless amounts of delicious food with as many helpings as you wish, plus amazing mountains of dessert at your fingertips? I loved buffets as a kid and I love them still. Lately I have been wondering what happens to all that extra food at the end of the day. Do they reuse it for tomorrows customers? (Ew, gross) Do they donate it or give it to the homeless? Or do they just toss it?
We are not just talking buffets here. We deal with food waste in grocery stores and even in our own homes all across the country.
How much food is actually wasted?
Roughly 40 percent of our food here in America goes to waste. Diane Sawyers did a news report on ABC news in 2013 with a shocking comparison of how much food is wasted each year by Americans. She said that we waste enough food every year to fill 730 stadiums. Can you imagine a stadium full of food? Fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs it’s all there in the trash. Grocery stores throw out their food when it expires and can no longer be sold. Many households do the same thing. I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to food waste. Once the food has reached its expiration, I usually am the first to toss it in the trash.
Food scraps are also a culprit when it comes to food waste as well. Just today I threw away a whole dinner plate worth of food when I combined all the leftover food left on my families’ plates. Food scraps account for 19% of what Americans put into landfills. This is money that just goes straight into our trash can.
Why should we care?
All the food that is being put into the landfills doesn’t have the air it needs to decompose properly. An apple core dropped on the floor of the forest is not cause for alarm. But there is so much food in the landfills that the weight of it crushes together and produces methane gas which is 21 times more toxic than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. This is pretty scary that each year there is 73 stadiums full of wasted food, not biodegrading properly, but producing a toxic gas into our communities. Yikes!
Not only does wasted food impact our wallets and environment, it is food ending up as trash when it could end up in someone’s belly. Especially if that someone is homeless, or in need. According to dosomething.org, 1 in 6 Americans face hunger. These are not just the homeless people you see on the streets, these are men, women and children struggling to put food on the table. So shouldn’t we care, even a little, about the food we are wasting both in our homes and stores?
Sell by. Use by. Best by.
Have you ever looked at a product and thought, “does this mean it’s still good if it has a sell by date instead of a use by date? How can we know how many days after the sell by date?” It all seems pretty confusing. Food labels are really just the food manufacturers best guess at the foods best freshness and the foods best quality.
“‘Sell by’ is the last day the product should be bought in the store. It can be eaten several days to a week after it’s been purchased. “Use by” is the date through which the item will be considered top quality, but it too can be used days after that, if stored properly.” Says ABC News’ Amy Robach.
What can be done?
- Learn more
It would be great if grocery stores and restaurants could/would donate left over food to the homeless, food banks and families who are struggling. Why don’t they? Grocery stores have found that consumers will buy more when their shelves are fully stocked. No one seems to want to buy the last item left on the shelve. The results of this are, however, a lot of food waste. Grocers may feel that they might be sued if they donate food and someone gets sick, or that donating food is expensive. Being sued is highly unlikely however, due to the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act. But the expense part could very likely be the reason behind the waste. You have to go through the proper channels to donate food. It is sometimes easier and less expensive for them to just throw away the food than to donate it. If you wish to learn more about the benefits of food recovery you can check it out here: Food Recovery: A Legal Guide
- Get involved
There is not much to be done for restaurants and grocery stores unless you are willing to fight for bills and laws to be passed and talk with your local government leaders and local grocers letting them know the importance of helping those in need by allowing food to be donated to good causes. Get involved! (Go for it! I’m rooting for you!)
- Do your part
You can do something at home by starting with your own eating habits, grocery shopping and meal planning. You can start by not being afraid of the labels. Try to remember the differences between “Sell by”, “Use by”, and “Best buy”, and keep your food in the proper places in the fridge in the proper containers to promote long lasting freshness. Don’t forget eggs, dairy and liquids should be stored in the coldest part of your fridge which is usually at the bottom. Another way to do your part is to use up those leftovers before taking a trip to the grocery store to restock. Most of the times when we add more food to the fridge the old stuff gets pushed towards the back and forgotten about until we smell something suspicious a few weeks later.
Let’s take care of our earth, our wallets and our fellow man by taking a step back and rethinking how we dispose of our food. Let’s look for ways to better the world around us and make a difference in the lives of our families and our communities.