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June 17, 2015

Why do we waste so much food?


Nearly 50 million people in the U.S. do not know where their next meal will come from; meanwhile, almost half of the country’s produce ends up in the garbage.

Fruits, vegetables and other foods are wasted at all levels of production. Sometimes, the packaging process goes wrong, forcing producers to toss the food. Transport errors can also result in the loss of food. We threw away 35 million tons of food in 2012.

The need for “marketable” food is also a problem. Farmers throw away otherwise-good crops that have slight discoloration or size differences. And as the price of produce fluctuates on the market, farmers might decide not to sell the crops they have grown, according to Peter Lehner, executive director of Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Right now, food that isn’t sold to your best buyer is often dumped in the landfill,” he said. All the resources those crops used during growth—water, fertilizer and fuel—also go to waste.

Food banks have stepped in to take some of these crops, and in the past 10 years the California Association of Food Banks has doubled the amount of food it gives away. But not all farms go through the process to get their crops to the food banks.

“Getting it into the hands of someone to eat it isn’t free,” Harold McClarty, owner of HMC Farms, said. “It’s a lot easier and cheaper just to basically throw it away.”

Entrepreneurs are working on other ways to make sure the food doesn’t go to waste. A new venture called Imperfect Produce plans to recover flawed produce and deliver at a discounted rate to people in the San Francisco area.

Warm up questions
  1. How much food do you throw away every day?
  2. What happens to produce that does not make it to the grocery store?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why is it easier for farmers to throw out unmarketable produce than give it away?
  2. How can farmers be incentivized not to throw away produce?
  3. What can we, as consumers, do to prevent food waste?
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