Today is packed with “must do” events for me. I have little to no time to write, but when I saw The Daily Post challenge in my inbox, I knew I had to make the time. The prompt is:
Remember the seven cardinal sins? You’re given the serious task of adding a new one to the list — another trait or behavior you find particularly unacceptable, for whatever reason. What’s sin #8 for you? Why?
The seven cardinal sins listed in the Bible are: wrath, avarice, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. So what would I consider to be the eighth cardinal sin? I knew my answer immediately. For me, it is to waste food when so many people in the world go hungry.
In 2012 the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) of the United States concluded that the U.S. wastes 40% of its food. That waste is valued at 165 billion US dollars.
- Much food is wasted at the farm level. Seven percent of the food we grow in the U.S. is never harvested. Some of the causes: damage from pests, disease and weather; prices are too low to make it worth harvesting: over-planting; food safety scares; and labor shortages.
- Food is lost between harvest and sale due to culling- removing products based on quality or criteria such as size, color, weight, blemishes and sugar content. Some businesses report that 25% of cucumbers and 20-50% of citrus and other fruit are edible but not marketable. One packing house said they can fill a dump truck with 22,000 pounds of discarded tomatoes every 40 minutes.
- Waste occurs in processing as well. A lot of this waste is caused by trimming of skin, fat, peels, bones, and pits. Waste during processing can also be due to overproduction, product and packaging damage and technical malfunction. A study in the U.K. found that 23% of food loss occurred as the result of these factors. Another study found that only 50% of potatoes made it through the processing plant.
- Waste during the distribution phase is caused by inconsistent refrigeration, keeping food on the loading dock for too long, imported food delays, and rejected shipments.
- Retail waste occurs when perishable foods are not sold. The food may not be sold because customers want perfect produce, the package sizes are too large or the food is damaged, outdated or unpopular.
- Four to ten percent of food from restaurants, cafeterias, fast food businesses and caterers become waste before it reaches the customer. Waste also occurs when the customers do not finish the food that is served to them. It is estimated that diners leave 17% of their food uneaten and most of it is not taken home. Increased portion size has also increased the problem of waste.
- The study reports that Americans throw out 25% of the food and beverages they buy. In part, that is because wasting food is not seen as an issue. Confusion over label dates and spoilage from improper storage, poor visibility, partially used ingredients and misjudged food needs are also problems. Impulse and bulk purchases, poor planning and over preparation are considered significant factors as well.
- The study reports that decomposition of uneaten foods causes 23% of the methane emissions in the U.S.
(Please see the report for much more detailed information as well as the original sources for the statistics.)
Solving the problem
The NRDC report lays out solutions for all of the problems. For this post, I’m going to focus on some things that each of us can address personally.
The report comments that Americans discard 10 times as much food as the average South Asian. I imagine we waste more food than that most, or maybe all, other countries.
Many of us grew up with parents demanding that we eat our food because of the starving kids in China. As a result, many members of my generation tuned that message out and disregard the fact that there is some truth to that way of thinking. I believe it is important for us to become responsible citizens of the world.
That does not mean we should force ourselves or our children to eat when we/they aren’t hungry. It is also not about shaming people into cleaning their plates. Instead I think we should focus on how much we buy, how much we cook, and how much we put on our plates. Children will be more likely to finish their food if they are given a small portion. They can always ask for more if they want more. That is true for adults as well.
We can also compost leftover food. In Seattle we are able to compost all foods, even diary and meat products through the city system. That service is not available everywhere of course but most of us can compost our vegetables and other non-meat, non-dairy foods at home. By doing that we will create rich soil compost for our gardens.
I believe it is important for all of us to take personal responsibility for helping to solve this problem. What ways do you prevent food wastage in your home? Are there any new commitments you are willing to make to reduce your food wastage in the future?