Last week, I spoke about the frightening food scarcity, water shortages and dwindling environmental resources we now face in the current of a rampantly growing population. I also discussed some brand new, tasty and nutritious eating alternatives entering the market, that we’ll soon have to start exploring if we want to overcome this dire situation. Read my eye-opening article from last week, about Where Your Next Burger Will Be Coming From.
But this week, let’s stop focusing on what we’re eating…and let’s take a real hard look at what we’re not.
If you’re like the average North American, then you may be shocked to discover that, without a second thought, you’ve tossed away about 255 pounds of perfectly edible food in the trash can this past year. Likely, because of accidental over-purchasing, overcooking, heaping more food on to your plate than you actually ate, neglected leftovers in the fridge, unclear expiry dates on food packages or actual food spoilage, you are donating an average of about $2,300 of your hard-earned cash every year to corporate grocery store chains around the nation, for no reason aside from adding to city landfills and a growing greenhouse gas problem. Seems like a waste of money, doesn’t it?
And that’s only the beginning of the story. The bigger picture I’m about to share with you reveals a shocking tangle of inefficient policies and wasteful practices built in to every stage of the food industry, all of which drain even more money out of your pocket every year, through hidden costs you don’t even realize you’re absorbing.
I’m about to share a very dirty little secret with you – one that the food industry tries very hard to keep hidden: These standard practices of enormous food waste are secretly maintained in order to keep market prices high. According to the former President of Trader Joe’s, “as a regional grocery manager, if you see a store that has very low waste in its perishables, you are worried.”
Presently, 40 percent of all food grown in the United States winds up in the trash can, while close to half of all food produced around the entire world ends up wasted. That’s 1.3 billion tons of food left uneaten around the world. Instead of that food being used to feed hundreds of thousands of hungry people worldwide, it contributes to nothing more than depleting our natural resources, inflating our food prices, hiking up our tax bills, and the rampant production of harmful greenhouse methane emissions.
Let’s take a look at some of these incredibly shocking practices of waste and inefficiency that occur at every step of our food cycle, forcing you to pay prices that are much higher than they need to be, while also forcing millions of people in the world to go needlessly hungry. I also want to share some things that you can start doing – right now – to save your hard-earned money from going into the trash can as well.
According to the charitable organization Feeding America, over 6 billion pounds of ripe, healthy, tasty and perfectly edible fruits and vegetables are left un-harvested, unsold, or are discarded because – well – they just aren’t pretty enough. Bent cucumbers, misshapen strawberries, blemished potatoes, split-clove garlic bulbs, Siamese zucchinis, stubby carrots, bruised apples, over-large tomatoes and other such “ugly ducklings” just don’t make the cut of aesthetically conscious food retailers and shoppers, even though they are just as tasty, healthy and nutritious.
In addition, farmers are also forced to leave several fields of particular food crops completely untouched, when market prices are too low that season to justify the costs of harvesting them. These marketing and economic factors are responsible for leaving behind entire fields of unpicked, healthy crops on the farm, as well as heaping piles of good, edible food left to rot in fields, dumpsters and landfills. According to the NRDC, about 20 percent of all fruit and vegetable crops are left behind on the farm; for certain crops, this number is closer to 50 percent during some seasons.
Of the food that leaves the farms and packing plants, several truckloads of this perishable produce are lost before they even make it to market (due to improper storage temperatures, delays at ports, re-routed shipments, etc). Then, once the food arrives, all items that sustained damage to packaging during bumpy transport are chucked out as well.
At the stores, marketing and overstocking policies kick in. Retailers are forced to buy pre-set case sizes, even if the amount of food in a case overshoots what the store can actually sell. Also, large-chain grocers have a policy of keeping their displays fully stocked to the top at all times; it’s believed that towering piles brimming over with produce are more visually appealing to customers than ones that are more modestly stocked. This leads to even more unnecessarily damaged food items discarded on a daily basis, which have spilled from the top, are knocked over by customers, are crushed or bruised at the bottom of the heap, or that have exceeded their shelf life. And prepared food counters in supermarkets suffer from this same stock-to-the-top policy; to keep the display window appealing, more food is prepared than is actually sold, often causing 25 to 50 percent of these delicious, ready-made foods to be dumped out in to the garbage at the end of each day.
On top of these daily dumpster dinners and produce go foods with passed holiday and promotion labels, new food items that didn’t sell well, and perfectly edible foods that exceeded their “sell-by” dates (which are set far before actual food expiry dates), resulting in what one major grocery chain discovered to be over $100 million dollars lost in the back-alley dumpster, every year.
And how do you think store chains compensate for all of that wasted daily food product, and for the millions of dollars they must pay yearly to haul it all off to the city landfill? The answer is that they make us pay for it, in the form of incredibly high prices for foods that are in no way superior in taste, freshness, health or nutrition than the items that the stores throw away every day. And your money losses don’t stop there…
At the end of the day, perhaps the worst culprit of food waste is the end consumer. Up to 50 percent of the food that does finally make it to the grocery store is ultimately thrown away by us, the people who overpaid for it in the first place. And not only does this cost you an average of $2,300 dollars every year but, as one of the highest food waste-producing nations on the planet, it also costs you thousands in yearly tax dollars for city waste disposal and waste maintenance services. How have we come to this? And what can we do to stop ourselves from such careless, expensive, and globally damaging habits?
These are just a few ways to stop unnecessary edible food waste from continuing to affect our wallets, our population and our environment. Sit down and try to come up with a few more food-saving and cost-effective tips, that make sense in your own life. It’s time that we each take responsibility for the way we live our lives today. It’s the only way to stop ourselves from throwing away the chance of a healthy future.
Yours in Good Health,
Dr. Alwyn Wong