For some, food is a crisis of scarcity, but for many in U.S., it’s just the opposite. The book "American Wasteland" show us how much we squander and what we can do about it.
As a nation, we grow and raise more than 590 billion pounds of food each year. And depending on whom you ask, we squander between a quarter and a half of all the food produced in the United States. Even using the more conservative figure would mean that 160 billion pounds of food are squandered annually—more than enough, that is, to fill the Rose Bowl to the brim. With the high-end estimate, the Rose Bowl would almost be filled twice over.
If those numbers don’t hit home, consider that the average American creates almost 5 pounds of trash per day. Since, on average, 12 percent of what we throw away is or once was edible, we can estimate that each one of us discards half a pound of food per day. That adds up to an annual total of 197 pounds of food per person. Ominously, Americans’ per capita food waste has increased by 50 percent since 1974.
How we reached the point where most people waste more than their body weight—or at least the average American body-weight—each year in food is a complicated tale. In short, Americans’ gradual shift from a rural, farming life to an urban, nonagricultural one removed us from the sources of our food. Our once iron-clad guarantee of inheriting generations of food wisdom became less so, as busier lives forced many of us to leave the kitchen or spend less time there. Convenience began to trump homemade, and eating out drew level with dining in. We have higher standards for our meals, but diminished knowledge about how to maximize our use of food. Many of us don’t even trust our noses to judge when an item has gone bad. Yet, our awareness of pathogens has multiplied, and we apply safety rules to food with the same zealous caution that we apply to allergies, kids walking to school, and most everything in modern life.