How To Wage War On Food Waste
A new study released this week by the United Nations says that one-third of all food produced globally -- 1.3 billion tons -- is lost or wasted every year. In 2010,OnEarth contributing editor Laura Wright examined her own trash bin and asked how we can all cut back on what we throw out.
Two Saturdays after Thanksgiving, I slept in. At around 11 a.m., I padded into the living room with a feeling of quiet contentment. My husband, Peter, had been up for a few hours, during which time he'd read the paper, made coffee, cleaned out the fridge, and taken out the trash.
Our refrigerator had been getting difficult to close, jammed as it was with two-week-old turkey scraps, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and other Thanksgiving leftovers that nobody had eaten, plus the wilting greens and vegetables that never became salad. There were partially full containers of sour milk, dried-out slabs of poorly wrapped cheese, and three half-full tubs of hummus. Peter had cleared it all out, and I was aghast.
That was my job, I said.
Peter stared back, perplexed.
I mean, my job, I insisted -- as in researching the environmental impact of food waste. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to tell him that to write this story, I'd be tallying up our own cast-off food items. I stood at the kitchen window, my forehead pressed against the cold glass, peering down into the airshaft where our apartment building's garbage cans are stored. At that moment, I may have been the only woman on the planet who was annoyed with her husband for cleaning out the fridge and taking out the trash while she slept.
Peter and I are part of a much larger problem. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that Americans waste 30 percent of all edible food produced, bought, and sold in this country, although it acknowledges that this figure is probably low. Recently, two separate groups of scientists, one at the University of Arizona and another at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), published estimates of 40 percent or more. Add up all the losses that occur throughout the food chain, the NIH researchers say, and Americans, on average, waste 1,400 calories a day per person, or about two full meals.
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