Americans Waste a Whole Lot of Food

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Have you ever thrown out food just because it was past the sell-by date? Or maybe you threw a massive holiday party, got it catered, and no one consumed anything besides the contents of the open bar. What do you do with the food then? You can pack it up in plastic containers and force it upon your guests, or you stuff it in a trash bag, toss it in the garbage, and pretend that you didn’t just waste enough food to feed a family for a week. (I’ve seen it happen.)

Americans waste a lot of food—not just bread crusts and scraps from the dinner table, but perfectly good, totally edible food. According to a new study from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, “the U.S wastes 31 to 40 percent of its post-harvest food supply." That’s about $160 billion per year—with the majority coming from homes, restaurants, and stores. The average American family wastes $1,365 to $2,275 worth of food and drink every year, but few realize it.

Out of the 1010 people surveyed, “three quarters of respondents said they discard less food than the average American.” The report, published in PLOS One, also found that on the list of waste-reduction motivations, saving the environment ranked lowest, while setting a good example for children and saving money ranked highest.

As far as reasons to throw food away, respondents listed concerns about disease, and “a desire to eat only the freshest food.”

An article published by CNN in 2012 attributed restaurant-related waste to increased portion sizes and large buffets. For retailers, the problem stemmed from stores overstocking “displays of fresh produce to give an impression of bounty, leaving items at the bottom bruised and unsellable,” and having to discard food with damaged or seasonally irrelevant packaging.

That’s a lot of snowman-shaped sugar cookies going down the proverbial toilet.

As part of the study, the respondents were given a list of “possible changes retailers could make to help reduce household discarding of food.” Among the options, the most popular were “more resealable packages," "more variety in product sizes," and "discounting foods that are over-ripe or near expiration.”

Dough Rauch, the ex-president of Trader Joe’s, is doing his part to reduce waste. Just this month, he opened Daily Table, a nonprofit grocery store in Dorchester, Massachusetts that caters to the neighborhood’s lower-mid income residents. According to NPR, “Most of the stock is donated by food wholesalers and markets” because “it either didn’t sell or it’s surplus.” Think of it as the Marshalls of cuisine.

There’s only one Daily Table so far, but hopefully, the store, or at least the concept, will spread.

[h/t Mother Jones]