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.