John Oliver on Last Week Tonight recently made a splash in the food industry after he revealed on how wasteful America really is. Americans throw away enough food to fill 730 football stadiums every year. This is equivalent to about 1/3 of our food! The numbers have increased by 50% since 1970’s. What makes this sadder is that in 2013, nearly 50 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, meaning that at some point in the year they struggled to put food on the table. So what exactly happens to our food and what are the potential consequences?
Food Waste Contributing to Global Warming
Oliver mentions that it’s silly for farmers to pump water into food when that food becomes garnish for landfills, especially when California is experiencing an extreme drought. What’s more frightening is that food vegetables discarded and decomposes without open air will produce methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 20x more potent than CO2 in trapping heat. By dumping fresh food into the ground we are contributing to global warming in a big way.
Best For Last? Not When it Comes to Food
Stores have to routinely overstock their shelves because if they don’t, customers aren’t going to buy the products. The owner of an organic food company, tells the show that if he doesn’t stock his shelves with enough produce, no one will pick up the last veggie. But if he stocks the box with more veggies, majority of them will sell. Why? It has to do with psychology of people and their assumption that what is left over must be bad or at the very least worse, than those before. This leads to overstocking and tremendous waste. One segment in the video shows a dump waste worker showing a mountain of perfectly edible organic vegetables sitting in the dumpster. This could be due to the fact that these were unsold or perhaps another, more likely scenario.
Fooled by Expiration Dates
Another major issue is food date labels. A reported 91% of consumers have thrown out food that was past the “sell by” date because of safety concerns. However, as the video explains the date is meaningless as it’s usually just the best guess of the manufacturer on when a product will likely will be the freshest. Often times, the same company will have three different kinds of labels for the same exact product. They include “sell by”, “best by” and “use by”. While some companies may try to add these as a guide to actually help their customers to give them an idea of how long a product is pristine, many can use this as a selling tactic.Stores with “expired” products are forced to liquidate the products at very low prices or discard them altogether. What’s even more interesting is that the companies don’t even have to put expiration labels on the packaging (except on baby food). It’s up to the discretion of the manufacturers to choose these dates, so it only makes sense that they would make these dates as tight as possible. Companies don’t find labeling GMOs as important, but they do find that taking the time to confuse or trick the consumers is a somewhat important aspect of a business.
No Peach Left Behind
But food is wasted before it gets to our plates or even the store. If certain foods don’t meet the strict criteria and have even the tiniest of imperfections, most of the time they aren’t even worth the farmer trying to sell it and they are left behind. USDA grading standards prevent of a large amount of food even getting to the produce isles. A perfectly fine but misinformed peach would never make it to the isles, and even if it did, no one would be likely to pick it up.
10 Things You Can Do To Prevent Food Waste
A few simple steps is what really separates us from wasting nearly half our food and wasting little to none.
1. Don’t live by expiration dates
While you should always inspect our food before eating it, don’t let your life be ruled by expiration dates. Use them as a guide to know when to be more cautious. Some products are good well beyond their expiration dates, so don’t throw money into the trash. Often times it is even possible to ask a manager for a discount on these items, as they most likely will end up in the trash. Perfect chance to save money while preventing waste.
2. Be Resourceful
If some of your food is going bad soon, be resourceful. Purposely find a recipe that includes that food or simply garnish and improve an existing one. Also, use simple tricks to avoid leaving food behind. Can’t get the remainder of the ketchup out? Add a few drops of water, move it around, and the mixture should easily come out now. You can use simple hacks like this to limit your impact on the environment.
3. Re-Grow From Scraps
Did you know that many of the veggies and fruits that you buy can be re-grown? Using the leftovers you can plant many foods to create your own unlimited supply and essentially grow money. This cuts out waste and while it may take some time, it will save you money as well.
If you are a business or even a single individual and have an overstock of food that will go bad soon, consider donating. As mentioned by John Oliver, you are essentially protected by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which states that you can’t be sued if something happens after you donate the food. Better yet, consider hosting an event for your family or those in need. It will give your business exposure or at the very least make you feel good, feed others and prevent waste.
5. Compost and Recycle
So you were unable to save that produce from going bad. Well it’s not over just yet. Composting that waste can provide your garden much needed nutrient-rich soil while reducing the waste that goes into land fills. All you need is a composter and some compost-friendly waste. Also, make sure to recycle any proper packaging materials that often come with your groceries.
6. Shop Smart (don’t overbuy fresh produce, stock later expiring items)
When it comes to produce, shop smart. Don’t overstock your home with items that will expire quickly. If you want to make sure your house always has some food just in case, stock it with items that have longer expiration dates, such as canned foods (or can your own food).
7. Be a Pioneer
When you see something left over on the shelf, don’t automatically assume it’s bad. Give it an inspection first. Be a pioneer and pick up the peach that no one else will. You’ll discover that even the imperfect looking foods can be perfectly delicious. For example, did you know that bananas can be green, red, purple and brown as well? While digital retouching has fooled us into following impossible standards, the food regulators have done the same with our food. But if there’s demand for the imperfect, surely supply will follow.
You can watch the full food waste episode below: