Thursday, September 3, 2015

Food waste in the US is a crime

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

In my lifelong association with the United States and its people one thing always struck me and that is the incredible amount of waste in this culture, particularly of food. As a kid I lived near a USAF base in England and my dad had many friends up there as he worked at the base for a while. The Americans had a lot more money and possessions than us it seemed.  There was also a huge dump where we would go to pick up perfectly good things the “Yanks” threw away. 

When I arrived in New York in 1973 things hadn’t changed.  They just seemed to have so much stuff.  And some of the people I stayed with actually threw food away. This was something I could never do. Part of it might have been that my dad was a prisoner of war in Japan for practically the entire war and he knew what going hungry was.  We never threw away food.

Ina recent report, the US Department of Agriculture reckons that at the retail and consumer levels, 133 billion pounds of food was wasted in the US in 2010 equaling about one third of the nation’s food supply.  The USDA breaks that down as 429 pounds of food per person on average including, 82 pounds of dairy, 81 pounds of vegetables, 59 pounds of fruit and 49 pounds of meat poultry and fish.

In her column in the Wall Street Journal* Jo Craven McGinty points out that the numbers are a little misleading in that, “The USDA measures food loss by weight, which includes cooking loss and natural shrinkage, and discarded food may be salvaged for other purposes such as animal feed.” But either way, the figures are staggering.

It is not simply that wasting of good food that is the issue. Ms McGinty points out  that researchers at the NIH claim that food waste also consumes a tremendous amount of water, more than 25% of “total freshwater consumption” and, according to the EPA, accounts for more than 30 million tons of municipal solid waste.

Alongside the shameful waste of food in the US is the level of hunger or food insecurity. We have all read of the poor using credit cards to buy food as well as to pay medical bills, both vital services that any civilized society should provided rather than forcing people to resort to the moneylender. The number of people that were “food insecure” in 2012 stood at 49 million according to the USDA.  Food insecure is defined as someone or families that at some time during a one year period don’t have enough food to eat.

I recently read that most riots that have occurred in history arise over food prices or the lack of food in general which makes sense.  The US seems to have kept that driver of social unrest off the radar of a significant section of the population so far, certainly in the post World War Two era. Visitors to the US have often told me that they were stunned by the amounts of food served at restaurants and the abundance of it in the supermarkets. That is an accurate observation but in the belly of the free market beast you’d better have the means to pay as US society is the worst of the advanced capitalist economies to be poor in.

What might be a more serious concern is the quality of the food many Americans consume, especially the poor. Food production is an industrial concern where animals are fed a multitude of chemicals and hormones in order to get them to market faster and keep profits coming in.  The decline in the bee population is not the only consequence of pesticides and other chemicals being used on our food, another practice that is a by-product of industrial for-profit food production.  Human health in general suffers, not simply from basic nutrition but in this writers opinion from the increase in cancers and other conditions that are linked to environmental factors.

As for fast food I’m not sure we can call it food at all.

* Jo Craven McGinty: The Difficulty of Taking a Bite Out of Food Waste  WSJ 8-29-15

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