Human beings eat only half of all the food we grow. The United States alone wastes over 100 billion pounds of edible food each year; that’s around $161 billion worth. We cast off crooked carrots, we’ve banished the idea of seasonality, and we buy things only to forget them until they rot.
This squandered surplus is the result of many factors, including but not limited to cosmetic standards for produce in supermarkets, purchasing psychology, the illusion of infinite abundance, inefficiencies in the global supply chain, and dietary habits. We’ve effectively built waste into our food system at every turn. But more important than assigning blame to the current state of affairs is the realization that we need to correct the course.
There’s a certain ignominy that, despite an overactive food supply, 48 million Americans still live in a food insecure household. And considering that the global population is expected to creep toward 10 billion by the end of this century, humanity has some hard questions to answer about how we intend to feed ourselves if we value our long-term survival.
Our current food demands are leading us down an unsustainable path. Increasing deforestation for agriculture means less trees filtering carbon out of the atmosphere. More organic waste in landfills means increased methane emissions. Water shortages are being exacerbated by demands for irrigation. These and many other problems are all bathed in the basic stupidity of devoting water, energy, and other resources to grow food we don’t eat.
It’s daunting to take full stock of our food systems. And considering the main players are governments and gigantic companies, it’s no wonder the average consumer feels powerless to help. But this dark cloud has a silver lining: an enormous amount of food waste happens at the consumer level, and you have three meals every day wherein you can make a difference.
Don’t worry: You don’t have to upend your eating habits. There’s no need to resort to dumpster-diving “freeganism” or to give up meat. You need only make a few small, mindful efforts. Really.