Food Waste in America Shows Lack of Appreciation

Posted on May 25 2011 - 2:22am by Mike Lieberman

We all know that food is wasted in our country, but there was a post on Planet Green “1/3 of Global Food Production Goes to Waste” written by Sara Novak that caught my eye.

Think about that. Over 30% of the food in this country that is grown for human consumption is wasted. To me that shows a lack of appreciation for food.

It’s not too much of a surprise that the richer nations in North America and Europe are the ones that waste more food than the less developed countries.

As a society we have become so far removed and disconnected from food that we waste so much of it. It’s so readily available and easy for us to get.

When I was living in New York, I went “dumpster diving” a few times and that really opened up my eyes to how much usable food was wasted because it wasn’t “perfect.”

There are ways that Sara mentions that we can cut back on food waste, but I think it starts with the way that we think about food.

If we were to all start getting our hands dirty and growing some of our own food, even just one thing, it would make a difference. It would make a difference in how you eat and how you think about food as well.

What’s your thoughts on the amount of food waste in America?

38 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Psxkeeling May 25, 2011 at 11:26 am -

    It disgusts me. I had a roommate last year who never saved leftovers-they went straight to the trash. When I said something to her, she seemed to think my only concern was the amount of space in the outside trashcan, and said, “we have another trashcan if we run out of space!” Totally not the point.

    I agree that there’s a disconnect between production and consumption. When you think of your can of spaghetti-o’s, you just think of them appearing on a shelf by magic. If you throw it out, there will always be more where the first one came from.  But when you take the time to grow your tomatoes, or even just enjoy fresh tomatoes in season, you can appreciate what it took to get that tomato to your table, and you can savor every last bit of it.

  2. Mike Lieberman May 25, 2011 at 1:58 pm -

    That’s the mentality that we have – food grows on shelves and magically gets replaced. Slowing down to grow your own makes you realized what really goes into it.

  3. Dan Polley May 25, 2011 at 3:01 pm -

    I think you’re right about feeling differently if we grow our own food. I’ve thrown away food that has spoiled and feel a bit guilty about it. But last year when I had my first garden, when I threw away some food from there that had spoiled, I felt much more guilty about it. If you have a greater connection to the food source, you’re more likely to ensure it’s used.

  4. Jennifer May 25, 2011 at 4:19 pm -

    It definitely is a problem. I posted about my food waste habits today. I hate to throw out edible (if not appetizing) food, but instead of eating it, I just let it sit until it is no longer edible…not a good strategy! My current living situation doesn’t have any outdoor space, but I do grow my own parsley, basil, and mint. When I can, I’d like to try more serious gardening. I think it will force me to recognize the resources that went into everything I harvest. 

  5. Mike Lieberman May 25, 2011 at 4:28 pm -

    And it brings a great appreciation for food when you have it.

  6. Mike Lieberman May 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm -

    Yes need to get back in connection with our food.

  7. Jes May 25, 2011 at 4:50 pm -

    It is amazing how much waste there is. When I lived in Portland, OR I went dumpster diving with a friend who went on a regular basis to see what it was all about. We visited a dumpster at Wild Oats (later bought out by Whole Foods). We found tons of still edible product in its containers, including 2 cases of Odwalla Juice. The juice expired in 2 days. My friend took it home and put it in the freezer. She had free Odwalla juice the whole summer. Amazing how spoiled and wasteful we’ve become, and how much we take for granted.

  8. Kristin May 25, 2011 at 5:40 pm -

    Love this post!
    I recently changed my family mealplan mentality to looking at what is available in our teeny garden and at the farmer’s market first, as opposed to making a plan and then hunting down the food.  Just doing that has us more accountable. 
    Not that we ever wasted intentionally, but because we would buy a huge bunch of vegetables or herbs, we would feel the need to prepare them all right away, and then rarely get back to them for leftovers because there was another large quantity of something on the verge of expiration. 

  9. Cindy May 25, 2011 at 5:43 pm -

    Think lifestyle has a lot to do with it – rushing around and eating a lot of processed foods, leaving the good stuff to rot. Lack of planning when buying food (an area I would like to improve) and agree with other comments that once you start growing your own food you get a new perspective. Composting helps because the worms and my garden benefit from what we forgot to use or that went bad earlier than expected. When bananas start to get too soft for my kids’ taste, I stick portions of them in the freezer for a frozen treat. 

  10. charmcity balconygarden May 25, 2011 at 5:57 pm -

    I’ve heard there are a group of people who get their food solely from dumpster diving, especially  in dumpster around grocery stores or other establishment that sells food. I always get bothered by the left over food after catered events and I would think at all those all you can eat type restaurants. I’ve read somewhere that there was an organization that takes leftover food from music events (whatever the musicians do not eat) and take it to shelters. I feel there should be more programs like this, probably there are. In grad school, I used to be “that student” that took all the leftover food home after any function.

  11. Katherinekelley May 25, 2011 at 5:58 pm -

    It is amazing how food has to appear “perfect” for most people to eat it.  When you grow your own, you realize that a tomato with a bit of cat facing or striping still tastes delicious.  If you’ve gown it organically and gone that extra step, there is no way I’m not eating it just because it isn’t picture perfect.  Once sliced and placed between two slices of bread with a bit of salt and pepper, it isn’t going to matter what it looked like.  YUM!  The amount of food waste and housing waste disgusts me when I know how many people are poor or without a roof over their heads.  We take too much for granted.

  12. Alicia May 25, 2011 at 8:33 pm -

    It is amazing how much growing my own veggies has changed my perseption of
    “perfect” food.  I have learned that an oddly shaped bell pepper that is organic
    and fresh picked is far more perfect than a factory grown pepper from the
    grocery store.

  13. Anonymous May 25, 2011 at 9:14 pm -

    It gets me how restaurants/groceries/etc aren’t allowed to give leftover / old / near expired food away due to legal liabilities. They have to throw it in the trash in order to avoid lawsuits from people possibly getting sick from said “throw away” food.

  14. Mamasimpson May 25, 2011 at 9:33 pm -

    In our house we like to reimagine leftovers. Mexican meal from the night before becomes soborro bowls for the next days lunch, leftover rice? Oatmeal? Millet? Make muffins. Anyway I hate waisting food. This is our first year with a garden and we are loving it. Great post!

  15. Mike Lieberman May 25, 2011 at 9:39 pm -

    I love those ideas. You should create a site around that. 

  16. Mike Lieberman May 25, 2011 at 9:40 pm -

    Therein lies the problem. The system is screwed.

  17. Mike Lieberman May 25, 2011 at 9:40 pm -

    For real. When I go into most grocery stores, the produce doesn’t even look appetizing.

  18. Mike Lieberman May 25, 2011 at 9:41 pm -

    So damned true. Gets to be frustrating.

  19. Mike Lieberman May 25, 2011 at 9:41 pm -

    There is no shame in that. The way everything is set up, it encourages the food waste from such events.

  20. Mike Lieberman May 25, 2011 at 9:42 pm -

    I can totally see that.

  21. Mike Lieberman May 25, 2011 at 9:43 pm -

    Planning goes a long way, cuts down the waste and winds up being cheaper. Subtle shift makes a big difference.

  22. Mike Lieberman May 25, 2011 at 9:43 pm -

    It is amazing and sad how much we take for granted and expect.

  23. Vicki Schoenwald May 26, 2011 at 2:06 am -

    25 years ago, I had to dumpster dive to eat.  My husband and I worked 4 full time jobs, and still could not make enough to get groceries. We lived in Denver at the time, and if it wasn’t for the dumpster dives, I do not know what we would of done.  We could not qualify for stamps, or any assistance.  What I found was still perfecty edible food.  The only thing that I did purchase was some meat.
    I find that people have not been in the trenches as we were, now I grow most of what my family eats or I support my farmer market vendors.

  24. Mike Lieberman May 26, 2011 at 1:26 pm -

    Thanks for sharing that story with us Vicki. It’s a shame how much food goes to waste.

  25. robin s May 26, 2011 at 3:05 pm -

    I helped my husband reimagine leftovers.  When we were first together, he almost never ate his leftovers.  He would make a meal, and maybe save what was left after, and then throw it away when it got moldy because he never ate it.  Now we eat leftovers all the time, and the nights when I’m charged with making dinner I reinvent a meal from earlier in the week.  It’s fun and exciting to make leftovers taste new again – especially meat, I try to never waste meat.  Now we even plan our meals in order to have extra for quick lunches!  Hooray leftover convert.  Sometimes it’s hard to use all of our vegetables like onions and herbs (the ones that don’t like to be frozen) because we only ever need a little bit at a time, but now we’re growing the ones we like, so we don’t have to buy a huge bunch just to use a little bit. 🙂

  26. Julie May 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm -

    This is what I’ve been talking about forever. Growing your own food does give you a deeper appreciation. It also gives many gardeners the opportunity to share with people in their neighborhoods. It is better to share than to waste the food we’ve been blessed with. 

  27. Julie May 26, 2011 at 3:21 pm -

    Those bananas on the table are prime for the freezer. Freeze them whole, thaw them out and use to make banana bread. Once they’re thawed, they kind of just squeeze out of the peel already mashed. 

  28. Mike Lieberman May 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm -

    Good for you for converting your husband and growing your own. That’s what’s up.

  29. Mike Lieberman May 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm -

    I actually mashed them all up and made fruit leathers.

  30. Melissa May 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm -

    Along those lines, I also found that leftover oatmeal and mashed potatoes make excellent cinnamon rolls and sandwich bread. We will often reinvent leftovers, using meats for sandwiches or salads, pizza toppings, etc.

  31. Faeriewhale May 27, 2011 at 3:01 pm -

    The grocery store I used to work for here in Canada has a lot of food waste, but they compost it. All the food is removed from the packaging, and that is thrown out separately. This is just the fresh food, not the stuff in the aisles, but it’s a start. 
    The amount of good food that is put in the compost does astound me, though, but it’s due to fear of lawsuits. If you give your day-old sandwiches to a shelter, and someone gets sick from it, you could be held liable. It’s this “covering my ass” thinking that leads to so much waste.

  32. Mike Lieberman May 27, 2011 at 5:38 pm -

    That’s awesome that the grocery store you used to work out does that. At least it’s something.

    I think you are right with the covering my ass thinking. Sad, but that’s the way it is.

  33. Scheung8888 June 2, 2011 at 4:28 pm -

    Actually, there is  The Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act that will protect you from liability when you donate food to non-profit organization, so there in no excuse not to donate them.

  34. Claudia Brownlie June 2, 2011 at 6:30 pm -

    You gotta try this idea next time you’re up to your hips with ripe b’nas (I just bought 14 lbs. yesterday to have a good supply on hand to do what I’m about to share with you) … make banana ice cream! OMG I am addicted to this – honestly!

    I freeze up moderately ripe (not squishy ripe) 2-banana portions – that makes what I think is a nice sized bowl of pure delight. 🙂

    Cut them into smallish sections; freeze good and solid; then blend up in a 3-HP or higher blender (sorry, the “regular” kind of blenders just aren’t strong enough to make it easy on yourself) until almost pureed; transfer to your bowl; continue to mash a bit with the spoon and then enjoy. (I am omitting some of the finer details in making this- but these are the general how-to steps.)

    I also make a stevia sweetened “hot fudge” type cocoa topping. YUM!

  35. Mike Lieberman June 2, 2011 at 10:39 pm -

    Nice. Love the idea.

  36. EcoScraps June 7, 2011 at 5:51 am -

    Great Post! EcoScraps was founded because of food waste.

  37. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 2:01 pm -

    It’s crazy. There is so much of it that businesses can be built around it.

  38. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 2:01 pm -

    It’s crazy. There is so much of it that businesses can be built around it.

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