The average American sends more than half a pound of food to the landfill each day . . . we're stashing pockets of greenhouse gases [methane] in the ground as little surprises for the next generation.
On a macroeconomic level, our waste throughout the food chain spurs price increases. If less food were wasted, we wouldn't need to grow as much, which would lower input costs. To keep up with the anticipated waste, we've had to grow more crops, depleting the soil at a faster rate, requiring more fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation, all of which come at a price, making food more expensive (and doing a number on the environment).
The percentage of [wasted food] easily outpaces the 15 percent national hunger rate. . . . if we set our minds to maximizing food efficiency, we would overcome our distributional challenges. The political will to use our excess food existed . . . from 1996 to 1998 [marking] the first and only time that our federal government has employed someone whose job was to encourage the recovery of America's potential food waste. As the USDA's coordinator of food recovery and gleaning, Joel Berg encouraged farmers to donate unsold crops and/or allow gleaners to recover what they hadn't already harvested.
The last time the Department of Agriculture studied [food waste] was 1997, when it estimated that we waste 27 percent of available food. And even the authors of that study admitted that their waste findings were likely too low, as they didn't include "preharvest, on-the-farm and farm-to-retail losses," owing to a lack of data.
There are few studies on food waste partly because there just aren't that many people who want to tally unharvested lettuces -- or any other kind of wasted food.
Farms usually do have a surplus, but it's often unharvested and, thus, hard to access. Food manufacturers have massive amounts of assembly-line excess, but it's not always in readily usable forms. For instance, when workers on the line at a North Carolina soup factory see a spotty potato, they knock it off the conveyor belt, but also end up knocking off everything around it, too, because of the operation's quick pace. Supermarkets are a great source for food recovery, but even their volume pales in comparison to wholesale loss. For sheer bang for the buck, excess food from wholesalers is our best bet for reducing hunger. . . . Redistribution is the real difficulty . . . some recovered foods don't reach America's hungry due to geography and perishability.
The idea of feeding the hungry with food that would otherwise be discarded seems like a universal, apolitical idea. But Berg, a Clinton appointee, found out that there is no such thing. "When I left, I gave the Bush administration this whole long memo on how they could continue this, rename it the faith-based initiatve -- because many of the groups I work with were fundamental Christian groups -- and they totally blew it off."
These days, if you call the USDA to ask for information about gleaning, you will be connected with the Society of St Andrew (Sosa), a privately funded, faith-based organisation that does an excellent job salvaging approximately 25m lb of food.
Sosa only has offices in eight states, however, and volunteer operations in an additional 11 states. What happens to discarded food in the other 31 states is anybody's guess.
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