Americans Waste a Whole Lot of Food

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Getty Images

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]

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar


Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Surprising History of Apple Cider Doughnuts

Apple cider doughnuts have a surprisingly modern history.
Apple cider doughnuts have a surprisingly modern history.
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Apple cider doughnuts are synonymous with fall, particularly in New England, where apple orchards from Maine to Connecticut use their own cider to flavor the fluffy, golden rings. Both sweet and savory, and often dusted in finger-licking cinnamon sugar, apple cider doughnuts may seem like a quaint tradition inherited from Colonial times—but the tasty treats have a more modern history that may surprise you.

It all started with Russian immigrant and entrepreneur Adolf Levitt. According to Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut, Levitt bought a chain of New York bakeries in 1916. He was impressed by American soldiers’ fondness for the fried loops of flavored dough and began developing a doughnut-making machine to take advantage of troops’ appetites. In one of his early marketing coups, he installed a prototype in the window of his Harlem bakery in 1920. The machine caught the eye—and the cravings—of passersby. Levitt went on to sell his doughnut-making machines and a standardized flour mix to other bakeries.

He spun his marketing prowess into founding the Doughnut Corporation of America. The corporation evangelized doughnuts in marketing campaigns across print media, radio, and TV. A World War II-era party manual the DCA produced noted, “no other food is so heartwarming, so heartily welcomed as the doughnut.” Levitt’s granddaughter Sally L. Steinberg wrote that Levitt, “made doughnuts America's snack, part of office breaks for coffee and doughnuts, of Halloween parties with doughnuts on strings, of doughnut-laden political rallies.”

The DCA launched the first National Doughnut Month in October 1928. In its zeal, the DCA sometimes made dubious recommendations. In 1941, along with surgeon J. Howard Crum, it advocated for the single source “doughnut diet.” Later it marketed “Vitamin Doughnuts” based on an enhanced flour mix it claimed provided more protein and nutrients than made-at-home creations. (The federal government required them to use the name “Enriched Flour Doughnuts,” according to Glazed America.) A skeptical public didn’t gobble up the sales pitch—or the doughnuts.

In 1951, however, the DCA introduced a flavor with staying power. A New York Times article from August 19 of that year observed, “A new type of product, the Sweet Cider Doughnut will be introduced by the Doughnut Corporation of America in its twenty-third annual campaign this fall to increase doughnut sales. The new item is a spicy round cake that is expected to have a natural fall appeal.”

The cider doughnut recipe gives a fall spin to the basic buttermilk doughnut by adding apple cider to the batter, with cinnamon and nutmeg boosting the autumnal flavor. Each orchard typically has its own family recipe and usually serves them paired with mulled apple cider. The doughnuts have caught on well beyond pastoral landscapes and are now seasonal favorites in national chains and home kitchens. Dunkin’ has taken up the mantle, and Smitten Kitchen and The New York Times have recipes for a make-at-home version.

Although the apple cider doughnut has stood the test of time, the DCA didn’t. J. Lyons & Co. bought out Levitt’s DCA in the 1970s, and the entrepreneurs behind Seattle’s Top Pot Doughnuts later bought the DCA trademark. The company distributes its doughnuts nationwide; however, its offerings don’t include a cider doughnut.