Food waste is a wicked problem in the United States. As we embark on the holiday season of overindulgence, it is important to consider this topic. There are so many layers of complexity, waste, confusion and frustration associated with the problem of food waste in this country. Let’s take a little bit of time to try to identify the wickedness of our food waste problem and see if there are ways each of us can contribute thoughtful solutions to mitigate the issue. 

It is a well substantiated fact that 30-40% of the food grown in this country each year is wasted.  It is waste at various steps of the supply chain but the majority of this waste is at the consumer level – that you and me. We cannot deny that 30-40% is an incredibly large amount of food! The next fact that immediately comes to mind after hearing this astronomical percentage of food waste is that in 2020, 38.3 million people lived in food-insecure households. (See the Google resource in the list of resources at the end of this post for help in locating food support.)

The piece of information that logically comes next is the number of resources lost during the growing, preparation and transportation of these wasted crops. “A quarter of the world’s freshwater is used to grow food that will never be eaten.” Here’s another one that always blows my socks off: “Around 1.4 billion hectares of agricultural land is used to produce food that is lost or wasted. That’s 28% of the world’s total agricultural area.” You should check out the Waste Food Statistics website and pick some of your own party facts to share in your social circles. 

fruits and vegetables in the carton box
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Then there is the cost of the actual disposal. When we waste food, it gets expensive! We can waste up to 25% of what we purchase. That’s like buying 4 bags of groceries and leaving one in the shopping cart on your way out. According to savethefood.com, “A 4-person family can lose at least $1500 a year on wasted food” which is a chunk of change wouldn’t you say? Collectively, the U.S. spends over $218 billion dollars a year throwing away uneaten food. 

One identified source of why American’s waste so much food in their households is because of confusion with the date labels found on many food items.  As a matter of fact, the Center for ECO Technology tells us that 20% of household food waste results from this confusion. DYK that product labeling is not regulated or required by law.  Do you know the difference between “Best Before” and “Sell By”? The companies using those labels may not know the difference or meaning either, as it turns out. It’s not to say that there isn’t value in those labels. It’s just to say that they are: confusing, interpreted very differently across varied groups of people, and contribute largely to household food waste generated in this country.  

Using your senses is a good way to clear up the confusion about labeling and can save cents! 

  • If it is smells bad (think old milk), do not eat it. 
  • If it is moldy or slimy, it likely shouldn’t be consumed either. 
  • If it has changed color (grey meat, not brown avocado), be choosey about whether or not to eat it.

Check out this article for more tips and tricks: 5 Ways to Tell If Your Food Has Gone Bad (spoonuniversity.com) 

If you have determined food unable to be eaten, good disposal choices make a difference.  If things have some life left, make something new with them; soup is the ever-forgiving catchall for veggies on their way out. If it’s not fit for human consumption, can your pets or livestock eat it?  Lastly, if it must be disposed of – compost what you can.  Lamoille Soil accepts all foods: moldy, spoiled, expired; we’re not too picky. https://lrswmd.org/lamoille-soil/ 

We don’t do all this research and data collection by ourselves.  If you find the topic of food waste exceptionally captivating, check out any of these resources to fill out the rest of this costly problem story. Please add your own resources in the comments section. 

For Your Deep Dive

Food Waste in America in 2021: Statistics & Facts | RTS 

Find Food Support – Google 

Food Waste | NRDC 

Spoiler Alert: Confusion Over Date Labeling Creates Avoidable Food Waste – Center for EcoTechnology 

Let’s Scrap Food Waste