When I was a child, my mother made me and my brothers walk to several free-lunch programs. This would usually occur in the summer in the mid-1980s. We would walk several blocks in many directions and visit two or three schools, eating and bringing food home. I didn’t fully appreciate or realize until I was a teen why my mother made us do such things.
She was a single mother with nine children, and she did everything in her power to make sure that we didn’t go without food. I learned from her the importance of learning how the system works and then making it work for you. If it weren’t for her resourcefulness and quick-thinking, my siblings and I would have understood hunger more acutely than others. We weren’t rich, but we sure as hell weren’t hungry.
Food Waste is Financially and Morally Wrong
I go out of my way not to judge people. We all fall short of our own expectations of self at the most inopportune moments in life. However, when I see or hear about Americans wasting and throwing away food, it makes me Heath Ledger Joker crazy. For many Americans and people around the world, consciously throwing away food seems to be a badge of Western world status, honor, or oblivious cluelessness.
Over 40% of all the food we produce and sell in the United States isn’t eaten. Over half of that food is thrown away. In the U.S., we waste almost $170 billion worth of food every year. That equates to every American throwing over $2,200 straight in the garbage.
Meanwhile, over one out of every seven Americans go hungry in the United States. Many visit food banks now, in the 21st century, the way I visited free lunch programs as a child in the 1980s. About 47 million Americans.
On a global scale, over $1 trillion worth of food is thrown away every day. We waste over a third of the food we produce every year. Look at it from another perspective. Some scientists believe that shortages of clean water will be an urgent problem for everyone on Earth in the very near future. We waste over a quarter of the fresh water we use to grow food on food we will end up throwing away.
Over one billion people in the developing world could eat on less than a quarter of the overall food that we consciously throw away in the Western world. If you don’t care about people starving in other parts of the world, well, I can’t make you. Do you care about landfills in the United States filling with over 35 million tons of food? Or how much it costs you as a taxpayer to maintain local waste disposal systems just to throw away 40% of our own food?
The Solution to Food Waste
American food waste has increased exponentially by over 50% over the last four decades. It’s a problem we should recognize for what it is, and not treat it as normal. Make a shopping list before you shop and only buy food that you will use. Give what you won’t use to friends and neighbors, people who you know value food before you throw it away. Treat food as a source of sustenance, not as something to waste as a sign of status. Or worse, something to obliviously waste.
You don’t have to be an Earth-child or bleeding heart to acknowledge just how wrong wasting food is. Starving people exist in the developing world and right here in the United States. Food waste is a problem that will catch up to all of us at the most inopportune moment in the future if we don’t do something now.
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