The numbers will shock you. According to Jonathan Bloom, “Every day, America wastes enough food to fill the Rose Bowl.” In a world where we are bombarded by pleas from charitable organizations to help feed those who are starving, we simply throw away food—and we do it with a wild abandon that borders on madness.
When Bloom writes about wasted food, he is not referring to food loss – that is, food ruined by bad weather, disease, or insects, inedible discards such as peels, pits, and bones, or food that rots during storage: “I consider food ‘wasted’ when an edible item goes unconsumed as a result of human action or inaction.” Examples of wasted food include food that is not harvested because that particular crop’s price has been lowered, edible produce that isn’t ‘perfect’ in appearance and is therefore thrown away, and perfectly good food that rots in our fridge because we never get around to eating it.
Are you feeling a little uncomfortable now? Are you thinking about those apples that keep getting pushed to the back of the shelf while you snack on potato chips? Or are you thinking that the whole topic is pointless because, after all, food decomposes; it doesn’t pile up in landfills or clog waterways or kill wildlife.
According to Bloom, food waste does matter.
“By trimming our waste and recovering the low-hanging fruit (literally and figuratively!), we can help feed hungry Americans, bolster our economy, combat global warming, and make our society that much more ethical.”
American Wasteland is full of eye-opening research and comparisons to make the issue of food waste easier to comprehend. During a stint in the produce department of a supermarket, Bloom learned from his manager that the store “budgeted for $12,000 worth of unsold produce each month.” To help us understand the very personal cost, Bloom suggests that we pull $2200 in cash from our wallets and flush it down the toilet or dump it into the garbage disposal; that’s how much the average family of four loses in wasted food each year.
2011 State of the World opens with this startling claim: “We live in a world in which we produce more food than ever before and in which the hungry have never been as many.” American Wasteland makes it clear that hunger is not a result of too little food, but rather of too little responsible behavior. A mere one-quarter of the food we waste would provide three meals a day for 43 million people.
As Bloom travels from the grocery store to the kitchen to school lunchrooms and restaurants, the piles of information rival the piles of food tossed away without a thought for the numbers who are starving. A list of food from an all-you-can-eat buffet that is thrown away at the end of the work day actually made me so queasy I couldn’t read the whole thing.
American Wasteland is not just an expose. Having forced us to sit up and pay attention, author Bloom goes on to provide concrete steps that we can take to redirect the excess bounty to help feed the hungry. Beginning in our own kitchens and reaching out to restaurant and store managers, Bloom’s suggestions are simple, practical, and—quite frankly—morally critical.