In the United States, a great amount of food that is perfectly fine to eat is thrown away by households, grocery stores, and even the farms that produce them before we can even see it. This not only results in a loss of money in the economy, but also a loss of a source of affordable food for people everywhere in the country. Roughly 60 million tons of food is taken away from consumers, and while some of it is thrown away for good reasons, such as pests or being spoiled, others are thrown away because they don’t meet the standards of grocery stores set for them to be sold. The food waste epidemic has to be stopped, or we could at least try and start reducing some of the food that is being thrown away. The blemished and ugly food and produce that is routinely trashed has more uses than just being thrown into a landfill. Instead of just being tossed into an endless landfill filled with other rotting foods, it can be used to as donations to the needy and less fortunate in a foodbank, used as feed for livestock, or even sold in grocery stores at a cheaper price. By wasting millions of pounds of food, we’re losing an opportunity to help feed the hungry by just throwing out this food as well as making healthier foods more affordable for lower-income neighborhoods and families. However, we don’t even have to save every scrap of food that we buy or prevent every apple that’s picked from a tree from going into a dumpster. If we save even a quarter of the food that’s wasted through homes, farms, and stores throwing them away, we could ideally, or at least hopefully, feed 25 million Americans who have a hard time getting food on their plates.
Farms are where the produce is grown, and one in five of fruits and vegetables don’t make it from those farms to grocery stores or supermarkets, although that is just an estimate since the real amount is unknown. It can either be because the workers won’t bother harvesting produce that is too big or too small, or if it has blemishes since they most likely won’t be able to be sold to a supermarket or a grocery store. They also don’t make it there because grocery stores will refuse the product unless it’s absolute perfection and if farmers most likely are unable to sell blemished and misshapen food to them. Most produce grown on farms that aren’t sold to stores goes to waste, and less of it becomes compost or goes to animals than you would think. Farming consultant Leonard Pallara explains that most of the time it “Generally it goes to waste”. Instead of selling this product that is shaped all funky or has spots, farmers will throw it into a dumpster because it’s the easiest and cheaper option for them. To be able to deliver the food that no one has bought to places like food banks or animal ranches, someone would need to pay for the transport, which would be very expensive for the huge amounts of food being transported. The food that could be going to better use like in a discount area of a supermarket, feed for animals, or even as compost ends up just getting thrown out with all the other trash that the farm throws out. A financial incentive would help lessen the financial burden on farms to transport the food to a food bank or some other form of donation center, and provide them with a reason to donate more food rather than just throw away millions of pounds of food. The food that is donated to food banks would help make more food available to the homeless and the hungry, along with being able to provide fresher and healthier food at a cheaper price to those who can’t afford anything more than cheap packaged foods.
A majority of grocery stores have a tendency to throw out a lot of food that is perfectly fine to eat because it doesn’t look good, it isn’t as fresh as they think it should be, or maybe it has been damaged. Grocery stores overstock their shelves because consumers are more likely to buy produce when there’s a lot of it as opposed to being 1 or 2 left. However, when they do this, it leads to more harm than good because it damages the ones on the bottom of the piles or at the back. Then since it gets damaged, they toss it out because the store is afraid no will buy it. We are also used to seeing picture-perfect produce, like a perfectly round and red tomato, even though it has nothing to do with the quality or taste. Since grocery stores take advantage of overstocking and ‘perfect produce’, farms don’t want to pick the imperfect produce (blemishes, bumps, odd shapes, etc.), and they usually throw it out before it can even hit grocery stores, or when they do, the stores will throw them out. This isn’t just with fresh produce like tomatoes and cucumbers, but also packaged food such as cereals, yogurt, and chocolate. If a package gets damaged during transport, the grocery store will throw it out, because people most likely won’t buy a something with a damaged container, since a consumer will think that there’s something wrong with that one specific product. Another reason why a grocery store may throw away food is that it’s getting close to, or it’s at its sell-by date, and they deem it lesser quality than other food. With all this food getting thrown out, it’s strange that grocery stores don’t just donate the food they don’t want instead. But, if someone gets sick because of food that was donated from that grocery store, that store could be sued, so most grocery stores don’t want to be responsible if that happens, they face the fear of having to pay for someone getting sick from their donations, as well as the negative stigmas that people will get if it would happen.
They also face the same problem farmers do, they don’t have the space to store food while they wait for someone to come and pick up food to deliver it to donation areas since they have to constantly get deliveries of food and usually have limited space in their stores already, and most food banks don’t have the transport to pick up mass quantities of fresh food. There are solutions to the problems present in supermarkets and grocery stores, and other countries have begun taking action to resolve some of these issues in the stores. For instance, in the UK the Real Junk Food Project has opened a supermarket that sells food waste, and shoppers pay what they can for edible food that has been thrown out. It’s not a large-scale solution for a problem that’s affecting millions of people, but it’s an example of what we could start doing to make a change. We could try this in some communities in the U.S and see what impacts it makes on those people that live there as well as the business, we could start spreading them or change them depending on how they do.
But it’s not just farms and grocery stores that are throwing away blemished and imperfect produce, it’s also households who throw out edible food and waste products that are perfectly fine to consume. One reason could be that a lot of people forget that they buy large quantities of food since it’s usually cheaper to buy bulk, so a good amount of it goes bad before it actually gets used, and we have to throw it away so it just goes to waste in the end. Also, when it comes to food labels, we think that when foods hit that date on the package or the sticker, that food is all of sudden dangerous to eat and that we have to throw it out. Consumers most often than don’t know the difference between “Sell by” and “Best before” dates, and that can lead to some unneeded food wastage at home due to people throwing away food that can still be eaten or that is still usable. These dates aren’t really indicators of food safety or health for consumers, and these labels are usually instead there for the stores to know when the peak freshness and quality pass. You can still consume the food after the date labeled on the food depending on what kind of food it is, and if you’re storing it properly. For example, you can still drink milk up to 7 days after the date on the carton or crackers 2 to 4 weeks after the date on the package. Compared to farms and grocery stores, it is easier for households and individuals to avoid food waste since we do not have to worry about the large-scale problems they do when it comes to donating or preserving food. We can avoid food waste by learning what sell by and best by dates are, as well as knowing how long we can stretch out the food past those dates. We can also stop buying too much food that we do not end up using, or at least keep track and donate the food we don’t use. Having that food go to a food bank or a shelter is a better use of it than letting it spoil in the back of a fridge or in a pantry.
All of us can do better to reduce food waste. Farmers are simply only the beginning of the issue, since they are the ones who grow the food, but they aren’t the ones who are solely responsible for wasting food. They’re under pressure to pick only food that will meet the rigorous and strict standards that grocery stores and supermarkets set so that they can continue selling their products to them. They need some incentive to sell the imperfect and ugly food that they don’t pick or just throw away, because right now it’s not really financially viable for them to do so, and it’s the same for stores as well. Stores have to be accountable for what they’re doing such as overstocking food and selling just the perfect food that appeals to customers.
And just like farmers, they need an incentive or some help to deliver food to food banks or stores selling imperfect food, because they really do not have the resources, transport, and money to do so. Supermarkets can help reduce food waste is make the difference between the dates printed on packages and foods in general standard to the public, so that consumers don’t automatically assume that food has gone bad or is tainted because it has hit whatever date is on it. We can also reduce food waste at directly at our homes instead of expecting farms and stores to do something. We already buy too much food that we actually need, and that usually ends up with us throwing out food that has gone bad since we forgot about it in the back of the fridge or in the kitchen. We also need better food dates on labels, so we are less inclined to think that food has gone bad the instant it hits whatever date is on the package. There also has been a decrease in people donating food, and since we aren’t constrained by the transport problems that farmers and markets are, it is easier for us to deliver and donate food ourselves. There are tax deductions for donating food to a food bank if it is a qualified charity though. We have an incentive, and there should be economic incentives for the larger sources of food, farms, and markets, to donate food as well.
The wastage of food is leading to an increase of food insecure households, and if there is no improvement on the problem, such as an incentive to donate food to a food bank instead of just throwing it out to the trash. Another solution for farms or stores, would be to sell the blemished and ugly foods for a lower price, since it would less the strain on transporting them. We also need better labeling on food packaging, so we don’t think that food goes bad as soon as it hits it’s ‘Sell By’ date or it’s ‘Use By’ date. The problem of eating only ‘perfect’ food is also contributing, and we need to stop this since this is leading to food not even hitting stores, and just getting thrown into this trash. All we are doing by throwing away and wasting food is just hurting other families that could’ve eaten that food. The food we throw away every day could go to better use, and if we start even making small contributions to this problem, it will make big impacts in the future.
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