In a survival scenario, when you’re struggling just to make it one more day, there’s nothing that would horrify you more than the sight of food going to waste. Yet, The National Institute of Health says that U.S. consumers waste up to 50 percent more food than they did in the 1970s. 25 percent of all state landfills in the state of California is thought to be comprised of foodstuffs and agricultural waste, some of which is (or at least started off) edible.
Who’s wasting all this food? Farmers, restaurants, and other agricultural concerns certainly contribute, but so do you. The U.S.D.A. (U.S, Dept. of Agriculture) says that an American family of four discards around $1,500 worth of food annually.
That statistic certainly doesn’t warm the cockles of a prepper’s heart; there are a lot of supplies you could buy for $1500. So what’s behind all this food wastage?
Could it have something to do with places like Whole Foods and Fresh Market? In olden days, fresh food was less desirable to many city dwellers. Some even considered it to be dangerous due to the possible presence of infectious organisms and improper food preparation practices. People relied on food preserved with salt or preferred non-perishable canned foods. But over the years, fresh food has become safe and widely available. From bananas in Montana to quinoa in Florida, you can get just about anything you want, even out of season due to imports. This might just be causing us to all become food snobs.
Looking for the freshest food easily turns into a game of what’s the best-looking produce. That’s called food “aesthetics”. You’re looking for that perfect apple, and the result is that blemished items end up in landfills, never to see the inside of a supermarket.
Only the best specimens make the cut onto U.S. food shelves. “A lot of product is excluded earlier in the supply chain because not everything grows that perfectly,” said a scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
This desire for perfect food is generating food and agricultural rubbish like never before. It’s not just picky shoppers though, though. The economics of agriculture has something to do with it. Big crop Producers sometimes throw out edible food just because the cost of harvesting and labor can make processing unprofitable.
Of course hunger and poverty are real problems around the world today, not to mention in the uncertain future. Certainly, food demand will grow as the population grows, giving new importance to every calorie when it comes to food availability. The world’s population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050, up from the current 7.3 billion, and each one of those almost 10 billion will have a mouth that must be fed. Somebody, somewhere, is going to be happy to have that funny looking potato.
Academics are looking for solutions to deal with food products that are rejected. This mostly involves working to use it as a source of energy, but the real goal of food production should be, well, to feed people. In other words, to fill stomachs and not landfills.
Privileged societies can throw away a lot of imperfect food now, but one day that spoiled society might be reduced to eating spoiled food if a major catastrophe occurs. So be a little more lenient on that apple that’s not quite red enough or that banana with a bruise. Somewhere in this world, there’s somebody who wishes they could have the produce that isn’t pretty enough for your table.
Joe Alton, MD