19 October 2010

American Wasteland

Excerpt from Huffington Post, 18 October 2010

'...Journalist Jonathan Bloom has a brand new book out called American Wasteland, which looks at why we waste so much perfectly edible food. What is it about our relationship to food that's changed so drastically since the Depression-era hoarding of our parents or grandparents?

Bloom goes through the entire food chain, from gathering to garbage bin, to show where food is wasted and to offer suggestions why. This is an important book, make no mistake. His insight gets to the heart of not only what it means to be a consumer, but more to the point, what it means to be an American in this age. I caught up with Bloom for a few quick questions before he hit the reading circuit...

Chris Elam: Let's cut to the chase, Jonathan - why do Americans today waste so much food?

Jonathan Bloom: We waste food because we take it for granted, simple as that. Food is so abundant in this country. We produce about twice the amount of calories needed to feed all Americans, and it shows - both in the levels of obesity and waste.

Furthermore, we waste food because we can. For many Americans, food is still tremendously cheap in relation to our incomes. True, food prices have risen in the last few years. Yet we still only spend about 10 percent of our disposable income on food - less than any other nation. Those last few scoops of broccoli may seem pretty worthless, but those actions have a cumulative effect. The average family of four throws out $1,350 of food every year (using the conservative 15 percent rate of waste advocated by some experts).

Finally, we squander so much of our food because we've become quite superficial about it. We expect our fresh foods to be both beautiful and uniform, or at least supermarkets think we do. Anything not cosmetically flawless nor the right shape and size is cast aside at some point in the food chain. This increased emphasis on our food's appearance stems largely from the ever-increasing popularity of food TV and the abundance of glossy cooking magazines. Yet, food isn't always "glossy."

CE: How about giving us 3 examples - let's call them "eye-poppers" - that unmistakably demonstrate we've got a major problem on our hands?

JB: Picture the Rose Bowl, the vast 90,000 seat stadium in Southern California. Now picture it filled to the brim with food. America wastes that much food every single day. How much waste is that, exactly? I thought you'd never ask. About 40 percent of all food produced in this country isn't eaten. That waste occurs at every stage of the food chain, from farm to fork.

At what cost? Here's another eye-popper: every year, through uneaten food, we waste 70 times the amount of oil that was spilled into the Gulf of Mexico during the three months of the Deepwater Horizon gusher. That's because a tremendous amount of energy goes into producing, harvesting, transporting and chilling our food. When we don't eat the items, those resources were used in vain.
Finally, by simply removing trays from all-you-can-eat cafeterias would reduce food waste by about 30 percent. That proves what we already suspected: our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. If left to our own devices, we consistently take more food than we need and waste an awful lot....'

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