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Forty Percent of Our Food Ends Up in the Trash

New data suggests the average American wastes 20 pounds of food every month. What can we do about that?

The Natural Resources Defense Council this week issued a set of research to make any member of the Clean Plate Club cringe: Forty percent of food produced in the United States ends up in a landfill. That's a whole lot of leftovers.

In fact, that's 20 pounds of food per person, per month, and all those rotting meals are actually the largest portion of trash in our landfills. The amount of food we throw away has ballooned 50 percent since the 1970s. So what's happened to our food system in that time? Well, that's when our food policies shifted to encourage massive monoculture of corn and soybean and drove consumer costs way down. We now spend a lower percentage of our income on food than any other country in the world. Food is no longer dear, so it gets tossed.

The NRDC looked at the entire supply chain—from farm to fork to landfill—and found inefficiencies in the fields and on supermarket shelves as well as in our fridges. Says the NRDC:

At the heart are two basic realities that must be acknowledged upfront. The first is that food represents a small portion of many Americans' budgets, making the financial cost of wasting food too low to outweigh the convenience of it. Second, there is the plain economic truth that the more food consumers waste, the more those in the food industry are able to sell. This is true throughout the supply chain where waste downstream translates to higher sales for anyone upstream.


The facts on food waste are especially hard to swallow in light of concurrent news that one in five Americans struggles to pay for food. It will be interesting to see if the expected spike in food prices because of the drought has any effect on our patterns of waste. Clearly something is broken in our food system if farmers are reacting to elevated corn prices by feeding candy to cattle (it's mostly corn syrup after all).

So how about some solutions to the problem of food waste? NPR gathered up a nice group of organizations fighting food waste, including GOOD favorite Flash Food. Who else is building innovative fixes to this problem? Let us know in the comments.

Image (cc) Flickr user jbloom

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