American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food

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In these tough economic times, who isn’t interested in slashing their food bill? The easiest way, it turns out, is to avoid wasting food. In American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) by Jonathan Bloom looks inside the national trash bin to deliver an excellent treatise on an often overlooked, yet critical subject. Americans collectively waste about half of all the food produced for consumption in the U.S., states Bloom. By his figures, we ditch about $100 billion into the trash each year. About 10 percent is wasted before it hits consumers, and includes food left unpicked to rot in deserted fields and supermarket produce rejected as too cosmetically imperfect for retail. The rest – about a third of all perishables produced in the country – gets tossed by consumers. The tales of waste are less than surprising: green stuff rotting in crisper drawers, food tossed from massive restaurant buffets to students forced food on their trays that ultimately end up in the trash rather than stomachs.

While the subject matter depressed, I found two things refreshing about Bloom’s work. First, it’s true journalism, something of which there’s a dearth of these days. Second, after presenting the issues, he offers solutions. Hence the tag on the subtitle “… and what you can do about it.”

Why It’s Important:
Not enough people talk about food waste despite its massive economic and environmental impact, not to mention the moral baggage that goes along with it. It’s a messy subject, yet critical. So many of us focus on buying local and sustainable, but forget that if you waste that food, you’ve done nothing for your carbon footprint since food wasting in landfills produces striking amounts of methane gas – not so good for the Earth. Recent figures put “food insecure” households at a record level; when you consider that millions of children in the richest country in the world go to bed hungry, it makes you think hard about why your local supermarket might be ditching tons of food for cosmetic reasons. All in all, a fascinating and important read.

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.

Comments

  1. Wow. Mind-boggling, isn’t it? I’d love to say that I don’t do that, but I waste a lot more than I WANT to at times. (I tend to cook for an army; it’s hard to cook the right amount for one or two people.)

    I’ll have to pick up this book.

Trackbacks

  1. […] by Dorie Greenspan, plus the excellent American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom, which I included in my 25 Food Books roundup late last […]

  2. […] Americans toss an average of 50% of the food they bring into their houses. Take a second and re-read that sentence. HALF of the food you buy, you are likely not eating. From the pastry flour slowly getting freezer burn to the quinoa collecting dust … we are either over-ambitious about our time and tastes, or we over-stuff our fridges and simply forget what’s back there. For the purposes of today’s subject, let’s just focus on the cost of that. Sure, the pastry flour was $4, and the quinoa was $3 … but that’s already $7. And if you throw in the exotic spices ($5 each) and the grain you over-bought … we’re pushing $20. And that’s not counting the berries you over-bought at the farmer’s market or the enticing new vegetable … both of which are now fuzzy in the drawer. The solution: Meal plan and designate one (or two) days for leftovers. Sometimes I take a week or two and plan meals purely for the purpose of cleaning out our stocks – those are always the least expensive trips to the store, generally for butter, milk, eggs, and a few additions to round out what are otherwise complete meals already in our house just waiting to be eaten. […]

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