According to a truly shocking investigative report by the Guardian, Americans “throw away almost as much food as they eat” — or half of all food produced in the country.
Suzanne Goldberg, the Guardian’s US environmental correspondent found that much of this was due to the cosmetic standard of produce, and a “cult of perfection”:
Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards, according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials.
From the fields and orchards of California to the population centres of the east coast, farmers and others on the food distribution chain say high-value and nutritious food is being sacrificed to retailers’ demand for unattainable perfection.
“It’s all about blemish-free produce,” says Jay Johnson, who ships fresh fruit and vegetables from North Carolina and central Florida. “What happens in our business today is that it is either perfect, or it gets rejected. It is perfect to them, or they turn it down. And then you are stuck.”
Food waste is often described as a “farm-to-fork” problem. Produce is lost in fields, warehouses, packaging, distribution, supermarkets, restaurants and fridges.
By one government tally, about 60m tonnes of produce worth about $160bn (£119bn), is wasted by retailers and consumers every year – one third of all foodstuffs.
This has a catastrophic effect on the environment, and the cost of food that goes up due to the enormous amount of produce that isn’t deemed sellable. Continues the report:
That lost food is seen increasingly as a drag on household incomes – about $1,600 a year for a family of four – and a direct challenge to global efforts to fight hunger, poverty and climate change.
The wasted food is thrown into landfill and is a huge source of methane — a gas far more dangerous greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It is estimated that food waste accounts for roughly 8% of global climate pollution — a truly astonishing amount that dwarves other major industrialized countries’ entire emissions.
The Obama administration has pledged cut avoidable food waste in half by 2030, but given the extent of the crisis, it looks next to impossible to achieve unless the US make a major change to the way it consumes food.
Then again, interesting new supermarkets like this are popping up, so there is still some hope for meaningful change.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.