NEWS2U Health & Wellness
Living Healthy in an Unhealthy World

Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Abundance of Food, Wasted
By Jonathan Bloom

With our abundant portions and food supply, every day is like Thanksgiving for many Americans.

But far from celebrating food, as those Massachusetts colonists did at that first Thanksgiving, many of us have adopted wasteful traditions that devalue food. Each day, America wastes enough food to fill Madison Square Garden. Depending on which study you believe, we squander between a quarter to a half of all the food we produce. Even by the conservative estimate, that adds up to more than 100 billion pounds per year.

Since America grows more than twice the amount of calories needed to keep its population fed, what’s the big deal? Why worry about waste?

One reason is that dumping more than 100 billion pounds of food has a financial cost. The last official estimate put that figure at $96 billion in 1997 dollars. Considering inflation, rising food prices and the fact that the amount of waste has grown with our population, that number is probably more like $150 billion now. In these lean times, the savings gleaned from reducing food waste could help pay for another stimulus package.

There is also an environmental cost to dumping food in landfills. Allowing food to rot in these giant piles creates methane, a greenhouse gas at least 20 times as potent a heat-trapper as carbon dioxide. Since landfills are America’s largest human-related source of methane emissions, cutting waste can have a measurable impact on the environment.

Finally, there is an ethical price to be paid for teaching our children that food is disposable, as successive generations of Americans have done. Thrift used to be a common American trait but has become increasingly rare the further we get from World War II and Depression-era scrimping. Because today’s youth are disconnected from how food is grown, processed and prepared, it is easier for them to squander it. They have been desensitized to waste by the constant sight of food left behind in restaurants, schools and homes.

Of course, food waste can never be eliminated. In some instances, it is unavoidable. Yet, simple awareness goes a long way. You can trim your own waste in a few easy steps:

--Plan meals before shopping, taking stock of what you already have and whether you’ll have the time or inclination to cook.
--Make a detailed grocery list and stick to it, avoiding impulse buys.
--Serve reasonable portions, knowing family or guests can always take seconds.
--Save (and eat) those leftovers! You’re saving food, not performing science projects. Simply discarding an item two weeks later does no good.
--Compost. It isn’t hard, and there are even machines that allow those without backyards to compost indoors.

Fortunately, Thanksgiving is one of the few days a year when many of us instinctively take steps to prevent food waste. It’s a day when most Americans eagerly save leftovers, and the day after is probably the only time many of us look forward to eating the remains in the fridge. And the abundance of extra turkey after the main meal often prompts particularly creative uses of the whole bird. These holiday examples offer an easy template for preventing food waste throughout the year.

This holiday season, let’s be aware of our food wasting and make a commitment to reverse this trend. After all, our annual autumn feast began as a way to celebrate and give thanks for the harvest’s abundance. While we may express gratitude on Thanksgiving, we fall short the rest of the year. Wasting so much food is no way to give thanks.