Why 40% of Food Produced in the U.S. Goes Uneaten
Have you ever walked into your local grocery store and noticed how the apples are stacked ever so neatly into the shape of a pyramid-like mountain, onions are practically overflowing in their barrels, and oranges tumble off their mounds with the slightest touch? No matter what time of the day you go to the store the produce section always seems to be readily stocked and piled high. Apparently, there’s a reason for the overabundance of fruits and veggies at your local market. The more booming shelves appear the more customers will have the urge to buy. Basically, it’s all about business and food waste is part of that formula.
It seems almost unreal that practically half of the food we churn out in this country is left to rot in our landfills. This accounts to $165 billion a year wasted according to a report released this week by the National Resources Defense Council. All the hard work and resources that goes into making food in this country is tremendous and to think nearly 50 percent of it is being squandered away is alarming to say the least. To get meals from farm to fork accounts for 10% of the total U.S. energy budget, occupies 50% of U.S. land, and consumes 80% of freshwater resources.
Part of the problem lies with suppliers who demand their growers overplant for fear of running out of inventory for their customers. This results in displays packed to the brim with produce in hopes that people will want to buy more. A bare lonely shelf is not a happy shelf, which seems to be the motto for big chain stores. In fact, managers gauge how well their store is delivering a satisfactory experience to their customers based on how much food is wasted. In short, if there is little food wasted that raises a red flag for store executives that they aren’t doing something right. As CARE 2 put it, it is simply twisted logic and untrue at that.
“People have it drilled into their brains that they need to have large, overflowing displays of perishable products,” says former CEO of Stop and Shop/Giant Landover Jose Alvarez. “We know there’s waste, but everyone’s afraid to reduce it because the thinking is that you’re going to reduce your ability to sell product.”
Alvarez went through a series of comprehensive changes to all 550 Stop and Shop stores in order to cut down food waste. He did things like offer loose and small variety packs of produce to displaying items based on the average amount of products that were selling. He managed to cut down on annual food waste and save $100 million a year in the process, which later reflected into lower prices for customers.
However losses occur in all phases of the food chain from farming, packaging, handling and storage, distribution and retail, and lastly consumer losses. The out-of-home food waste had by the far the largest percentages out of all categories. In order for America to stop the trend of wasting food it would require a full collaborative effort from government, businesses, and consumers. Starting from the top, governments should set national standards on food waste and businesses should enhance and reformulate practices to increase efficiency (which would in turn save them money) while still providing great customer satisfaction. Lastly, consumers must be educated on the food system and learn to buy only what’s necessary, not being fussy about the cosmetics of produce (like perhaps a crooked carrot?) and learn to cook the right amount of food and consume all leftovers.
It’s a tragedy to think we could be feeding so many mouths with the food we are carelessly tossing away. One in every six Americans lacks a steady food supply on their kitchen tables and we have the opportunity to start changing that. If we could manage to reduce food waste by 15% it could feed up to 25 million Americans a year. To learn more about shopping tips, habits, and programs to reduce food waste check out the Daily Green.
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