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Food Waste in America

What is Food Waste?

The definition of food waste has been unanimously agreed upon: the disposal of perfectly good, consumable food. This waste happens in all areas of life and all over our country, with grocery stores, restaurants, farms, and homes throwing away food that hasn’t gone bad. 

According to Feeding America, a foundation dedicated to erasing food waste and insecurity, the United States wastes 92 billion pounds of food every year. But according to RTS, a similar foundation, that number jumps to 120 billion pounds annually. This number is estimated to be about 40% of our food supply and averages out to 325 pounds per person. 

Why do we waste so much?

According to RTS, it is estimated that 35 million Americans, including 10 million children, suffer from food insecurity. Food insecurity is having limited access to food and not being certain where your next meal will come from. And yet, with all of these people struggling to feed themselves and their families, we are still one of the world’s top food wasters. The World Counts claims that the world wastes about 1.3 billion tons of food annually, and the US is no doubt a large part of that number, coming in at about third place after China and India. 

So why are we wasting so much food? Well, a big contributor is the perception of spoiled food. As a country, it seems many of us don’t understand the dates on our food. People see “best if used by” or “use by” and assume that the product is no longer consumable after that date and so the food gets thrown away. However, when a product says “best if used by” that date simply means that it may not maintain the same quality but it is still perfectly safe for consumption. Similarly, “use by” means that the product should be consumed before or on that date to achieve peak quality. 

The look of our food is also too important to us, to the point where you can get discounts on fruit and vegetables that are shaped weird or have another difference in their appearance. The food that doesn’t get chosen because it doesn’t look “pretty” will only ever get thrown away, because grocery stores don’t donate excess food.

We must also realize that we don’t appreciate food in this country. For many of us, food is abundant and easily accessible. If you’ve taken a sociology class from Mrs. Henningson, you may recall a story she told about her friend who spent years living in poorer countries and when she returned to the US, she had a breakdown in the aisles of a grocery store from sheer overwhelment of the amount of choices. Our grocery stores are large and stocked with so many varieties of each kind of food so it makes it hard to appreciate the food we receive. 

Environmental Impact

All of this food doesn’t just get wasted, it affects the environment. The majority of all of this discarded food ends up in landfills and takes up more space than anything else. It eventually begins to deteriorate and causes nitrogen pollution. While nitrogen is a crucial element to aid life on Earth, an excess of it could be detrimental. Nitrogen pollution can produce other pollutants such as ammonia and ozone, both of which affect our ability to breathe, limit visibility, and affect the growth of plant life. 

While rotting in these landfills, a type of greenhouse gas is produced as well: methane. Greenhouse gases are a prime contributor to global warming. When sunlight hits the Earth, some of it radiates back into space in the form of infrared radiation, better known as heat. These greenhouses gases absorb this radiation, trapping it in our atmosphere. 

What Can We Do

While there are organizations dedicated to combating food waste and global warming, more needs to be done. Several US states have taken action and passed laws that restrict the amount of food that goes into landfills. Similarly, Vermont has created the “Universal Recycling Law” which bans the waste of food scraps. This law has increased food donations by 40%. 

And while all of this is well and good, there is more we can be doing as individuals to help. Learning how to compost is a big one. There are many positive aspects to learning how to compost, but some of them include: reducing your carbon footprint, decreasing methane emissions, limiting the need for chemical fertilizers, and saves you money. 

It’s also important that we learn the meaning of the dates on our food. The majority of the time, these dates don’t mean the food has actually gone bad and it is still perfectly safe to consume. Freezing foods that you know won’t be eaten soon is a great way to preserve your food so it can be eaten at a later date.

You can also donate food! There are so many people in our country who would benefit from food donations and it keeps the food out of landfills. Finally, a simple way to reduce your food waste is to plan your meals and make deliberate grocery lists. When we go grocery shopping without a list, it makes it difficult to plan out when everything will be used. Meal planning allows you to know exactly what you need and when it will be used so you don’t buy those extras that just go to waste .

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