One-Third of Food Is Lost or Wasted: What Can Be Done

From our farms to grocery stores to dinner tables, 30 percent of the food we grow is never eaten.

Picture this; it’s lettuce season in Salinas Valley, in the central California region that produces about 70 percent of the leafy greens sold in U.S. retail markets. On a typically foggy morning, tractor trailers stuffed with salad stream from valley processing plants to points north, south, and east.

Meanwhile… a single roll-off truck trundles into the Sun Street Transfer Station, not far from downtown Salinas. The driver pauses atop a scale; then positions his battered dumpster over a concrete pad. A flick of a lever, and 20 cubic yards of lettuce and spinach tumble onto the ground. Packaged in plastic boxes and bags, the greens—piled seven feet high—appear to be in the pink of health: dewy, crisp, and unblemished. The misdemeanor for which they’ll soon be consigned to a landfill…their containers have been improperly filled, labeled, sealed, or cut.

Anyone would say this heap—the size of two African elephants—represents a tremendous, even criminal, waste. But this is nothing. Over the course of the day, the transfer station will receive another 10 to 20 loads of perfectly edible vegetables originating from nearby grower-packers. Between April and November, the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority landfills between four and eight million pounds of vegetables fresh from the fields. And that’s just one transfer station out of the many that serve California’s agricultural valleys.

But that is the food distribution company’s problem you say…

Did you know that spills, spoilage, table scraps, and other losses from the typical American family of four add up to an average of $1,484 or 1,160 pounds worth of edible food annually?

Did you know that American food retailers typically experience in-store losses of 43 billion pounds of food a year, and those losses are calculated into to price you pay for food at the register?

The first step in reducing food waste and food loss is getting people to perceive that there is a problem. Denial reigns supreme. But attitudes are slowly changing as the price of food rises.

To learn more about this problem, read this in-depth National Geographic article.  We can make a change, one table at a time.