Americans waste up to 40% of their food...

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Summary: According to an article, Americans waste up to 40% of their food. I'm not 100% sure about the claims of the article, but I'll go on a bit about it, anyhow.

BLOT: (26 Aug 2012 - 11:02:31 AM)

Americans waste up to 40% of their food...

Joy of joys, America might be not only the fattest country in the world—I'm guessing, not really sure—but it looks like we we waste up to 40% of our food. Meaning that we somehow double our caloric needs and that's with only a bit over half the food we make. Damn, son. Presumably our butter and margarine waste is tiny compared to our whole grain and leafy green waste. Now if you know me, and note that I linked to an article discussing a statistic, you probably expect me to go off on a rant about "Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics" and truthfully the original version of this post had a bit of that going on but I'll put my gloves down and focus on the 60% of the meat-of-the-matter we deem fit to eat.

What are the causes? I'm sure you can guess: Farmers throw away produce to keep prices down and then we ship in more from other countries to save some pennies or in off seasons. Sometimes we pay farmers not to harvest their crops [to stop the price from dropping] and then we grant companies subsidies to keep what is harvest cheaper. We base much of our lives around getting food, and think it must be terribly inexpensive, and even guilt people for not shopping at the cheapest places [have even heard the implication that it is un-American to pay more for food, though I'm sure they were just being a bit hyperbolic]. We rely on national chains, and many of our local farmers have to sell food to national distributors, which adds in levels of complexity (and drives down how much they make by several degrees, helping to push them to overproduce). And expediency is another big deal here. We cannot spend all day haggling over food prices, and we get off work at 5pm and want to eat before 6pm and that means buy food on the weekends or stop off and get something to eat on the way home. When we eat out, restaurants give two or three servings worth of food for a price reasonable for that much food but not for a single person to eat. And either we overeat, get fatter, and increase the volume of the problem, or we take food home where it will sit in a fridge for a day or two and then get tossed out. We are terrified of eating bad food, and religiously go by best-by and sell-by dates even though they are not regulated and are often not even backed up by anything like research, and hysterical bloggers and news stories trump up how us feeding our precious snowflakes anything but the freshest is practically a death sentence and don't you love your children? And this doesn't include cases where entire herds are culled due to a potential outbreak, or tons of some various fruit are burned because there might be a some sort of harmful pesticide oversprayed.

It is a network of issues but does seem possible to help along. I personally favor the return to actual food distribution in lieu of foodstamps. When I was a kid, I lived in part off of government milk and government cheese, and damn if I do not still miss government cheese. Take all those bad-in-appearance tomatoes and turn them into cheap tomato sauce for families in need. Make the USDA and FDA actually work out a reasonable series of research backed eat-by dates. Shop locally, hitting up farmers-markets or even buying directly from farmers.* Cut out eating at fast food and other national chain restaurants that demand farmers sell food ubercheap and increase the complexity of food delivery, but go after those that offer legit servings and well balanced meals and who buy simpler. Try shopping more than once a week, so that you can buy what you need for that three-four day period, and not over buy to try and have to guess what you want for the next week. Be ok with getting produce that is not the most attractive but still is good.

Sarah and I have actually started doing these things, those we can, and I would say that our average "waste food" amount is possibly about $5 per week. We've just started the "Saturdays and Tuesdays" shopping routine to try and decrease even that. We are ok with leftovers, when we have them (not that often nowadays) and we look at food quality instead of labels. Then we buy fresh, in small but usable quantities, and have even been taking advantage of some options to buy directly from farmers. I don't know how much our contributions matter, but I take the stance the food is going to go up in price in this country, and the quality is going to go down, and all of it was avoidable if we just took advantage of the options we already have in front of us.

There, I went preachier than I wanted to go, but that's ok. It will probably all be for naught. And some will even get mad at me for "judging" them, but I'm really not. I just find it to be kind of fascinating how much more fun food can be when you put a little effort into it and make it a more conscious part of your day.

* Though some in the green/organic/healthy-food tribes have actually started railing against local food, possibly because they want to buy high-grade olives from the Mediterranean [because Oprah said it would make them healthier, natch] and don't want to feel guilty? I say buy your Greek olives, and your Chinese tea, but then buy Alabama—if you live here—tomatoes. There are also anti-local arguments along the lines that agricultural regions should be optimized and regulated to produce that which they are specifically best and that repetition should be avoided, and frankly I do not care. It might be more efficient, but I bet we'd hose that up, and in case of the zombie apocalypse, I do not want to drive to Seattle just to get a butterbean.



Written by Doug Bolden

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