Is wasting food America’s stupidest problem?

Is wasting food America’s stupidest problem?

When one in eight people are food insecure, it’s fair to argue that maybe it is.

I was first introduced to the staggering, multilevel issue of wasted food in America after watching a Vox Media explainer video (“Food Waste is the World’s Dumbest Problem”) one year ago.

The dismal data on how much food we waste in the U.S. left me reeling. It’s currently estimated that up to 40 percent of all food grown or produced for human consumption in America is never eaten. And we’re not talking scraps, recalled products or goods damaged beyond salvage — this is food that’s perfectly safe and nutritious.

Beyond the sickening fact that this is all happening while millions in America and around the world are going hungry is the massive environmental and economic impact of such waste.

With and without intent, food grown and harvested with the express purpose of providing nutrients to humans creates waste on every level: at farms, during shipping, storage and processing; on shelves at stores and plates at restaurants, and in our home kitchens.

The reasons for this waste vary widely at each level. But on the consumer end — where most of this waste happens, totaling 43 percent — a major factor, researchers have found, is human psychology and cultural norms.

We like pretty, perfect produce. We want to feel like we’re getting a good deal when dining out, even if that means portions are way too big. We overbuy at the grocery store. Many of us don’t plan meals. We impulse buy because it’s there, or on sale. We also don’t always eat restaurant leftovers, or worse, don’t take them home! Most consumers don’t understand “best by” and “use by” dates, which are often confusing and misleading. Empty space on plates and in refrigerators makes us anxious.

But it wasn’t always this way. In the 1970s, Americans wasted half as much food as we do now.

In the following collection of stories, the Inlander set out to explore how local farmers, retailers, restaurants and food recovery organizations are addressing the issue of food waste right here in the Inland Northwest. Even reducing waste by 50 percent — a national goal to reach by 2030, set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — certainly requires sweeping solutions. The promising news is that many stakeholders on all fronts, here and elsewhere, are already implementing innovative and successful solutions. 

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