Food Waste Problem in the United States of America
In the past decade, consumer behavior in the United States and the world has become the guileless act of acquiring goods and services to maintain households, but also to pursue human satisfaction of personal needs and wants. The entire economy is wasteful; it is based on the human urge to consume and society further persuades customers to believe that they are king, and that the customer is always right. What this has created in modern society is the shop until you drop syndrome, and in relation to food, consumers are led to want an abundance, while harboring the belief that they should never run out of anything. Although food waste occurs in every stage of the food chain, it is estimated that the average person produces nearly 220 kilograms of food waste annually, meaning that consumers are also the main culprits of food waste in America. This translates into the great economic loss of two hundred and eighteen billion dollars annually in the United States (Food Waste, 2017). Before food waste can effectively be diminished, it is imperative for consumers to better understand the aspects influencing food waste related actions and perceptions. In order to solve the pervasive issue of food waste at the consumer level, three solutions have been proposed, including increasing the public’s individual awareness and knowledge of their waste, implementing better methods of shopping and food storage, and to also educate consumers on composting rather than disposing of food waste by garbage cans.
Education is the first step towards reducing food waste at the consumer level. If awareness of the problem is increased, consumers will be more likely to respond with purposeful action to reduce food waste. After all, an individual cannot change his/her behavior unless a realization occurs that there is a problem in the first place. Consumers should know that a major economic loss is not the only detrimental effect that food waste has on society. From the environmental perspective, food waste rotting in landfills is to blame for 25% of methane emissions in the United States (Hunter, B. T., 1998). Methane is a gas that is 21 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide. Meaning that if residents in the United States continue to ignore their responsibility for this issue, future generations will be met with even less resources. With there already being a poverty and population issue, there will be no room for anyone except garbage.
According to a 2016 study on household food waste by Danyi Qi and Brian Roe, it was found that 53% of 500 respondents were aware that food waste is a major life-threatening problem, yet 42% of them claimed that they do not have enough time to worry about it. 77% of those respondents also feel guilty about throwing food away, knowing that many people are food-insecure in the United States, yet they are not moved enough to change their behavior. Along the same lines in another study on “”Estimated Annual Food Waste in the United States”” (2017), it is found that 42% of the food that is being wasted are fruits and vegetables while 12% represents meat, and seafood 2%. The results show that everything comes full circle, consumers are wasting healthy food choices that are needed the most. This is why Dana Cowin, the editor and chief of Food and Wine Magazine vouches so heavily for the new trend of supermarkets selling ugly foods at a reduced price to help lessen food waste. In Cowin’s Ted Talk (2015), she notes the consumer’s common misconception of ugly food and how it is believed that it does not taste the same as its counterpart.
Cowin provides several examples of chef’s turning these so-called ugly foods into vintage masterpieces and posting it online to change the attitude of consumers. Likewise, in an interview with Chef Samuel Brown (2018) from Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis, it is found that he is making his contribution by doing this very same thing with his students and also making sure that everything that is bought for his courses are used in entirety. This is the kind of behavior that should be promoted in the media for consumers to see. Date-labeling however relates to ugly foods but also poses a greater threat for consumers. A surprisingly small number of consumers know the difference between “”sell-by”” and “”use-by”” dates on packaging labels of food products.
According to a national survey, 70% of the respondents believed that date labeling was an indicator of food quality (US Consumers’ Understanding of the Use of Food Date Labels, 2016). This results in food being needlessly thrown away. The issue here is that those dates differ in that one of them is a message from the manufacturer to the stores, letting them know when the product will look best on their shelves. While the other is attempting to inform the consumer of when they will most enjoy their food. Although so much emphasis is placed on the consumers paying attention to and understanding date labels, they are not even regulated by the government. Many companies can print whatever they chose on their packaging, leaving the consumer even more confused and therefore will most likely rely on their senses to be the judge of whether their food products deserve to be thrown away. Consumers are forced to deduce on their own whether food is safe to eat primarily based on the look and smell. If the government does decide to standardize date-labels on packages, it may go unnoticed by consumers.
While educating the consumer is a clear method of preventing food waste, it is not enough to change the nation’s narrative and billions of dollars lost on the subject. Anyone can willingly receive information, but without action it is useless. This is why consumers must also implement better practices when shopping and then preserve the food to alleviate household waste. According to the FDA, there are numerous ways in which consumers can change their shopping behaviors. When going grocery shopping, it is evident to make a list of what should be purchased before arrival. It is also important to double check what is already in the household, so that duplicate items will not be purchased (Center for Food and Applied Nutrition, 2017). The goal is to only leave the supermarket with only items that are truly needed. Although this is great advice, there is a bigger issue at hand. The media promotes buying items in bulk therefore that is how most food items are purchased, making it difficult for the consumer to not waste food. It is estimated that “”5.4 billion pounds of food are lost yearly”” (Hunter, B. T., 1998) in the United States due to overstocking. Companies know the kind of shelf life that their items have, so this becomes all about keeping money in their pockets, rather than selling what is necessary. Other than shopping, the FDA also has good tips for the consumer to reduce food waste when they take their items home from the grocery store. It is noted that the temperature setting in the fridge should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit to keep foods safe while the freezer should be kept at 0 degrees (Center for Food and Applied Nutrition, 2017).
Another resource that the FDA mentions is the FoodKeeper App, available for IOS and Android devices that provides information on how to maintain the quality of different foods. The biggest tip however is for consumers to check their refrigerator regularly in order to know what needs to be used before it goes bad. If the consumer notices that they have too much food on hand, it is wise to donate to those who are food-insecure rather than forgetting about the food and then having to throw it away. Consumers should not hesitate to get creative with leftover food, if there are no plans to reuse the products, it should be given away immediately. It is unsafe to leave certain foods to sit in room temperature or even at a temperature above 90 degrees for more than an hour or two. As a last tip when cooking, consumers should try to portion meals, it is better to get less food then ask for more, rather than to get more food and be wasteful when it cannot be finished. All these tips provide the consumer with even more education regarding how they change their lives to produce waste but there are a lot of things that the consumer cannot control. There have also been many stories regarding consumers contacting bacteria from food even though they used good practices. The fact is that all of this means nothing if produce is already contaminated before it gets to the hands of the consumer. Even the sell by dates mentioned earlier cannot appease this situation.
A method that has been proven to significantly reduce food waste is composting. Composting “”converts organic waste materials such as soiled paper and food scraps into humus”” (Spencer, R. L., & Tracy, K. D., 1993). This means that less food will be taken to landfills which decreases major issues with ground and surface water. The benefits of composting include reducing the amount of food ending up in landfills, which helps lessen methane emissions, it is a source of rich soil, it also significantly reduces cost for consumers and the government. The great thing about composting is that anyone can do it. According to Barbara Pleasant from Mother Earth News, the biggest issue regarding composting is that consumers are confused with the process but it can be an easy project to start. She gives a detail account of how consumers can start compost pile.
The first step is to get an open bin and make a circle, deciding on its dimensions, put fencing around it, and add a layer of plants, sticks, or some sort of coarse material to the bottom. Once that is done, any food waste can be added. To keep up the compost pile, the consumer must then add water often. It is important to know that certain things cannot be added to the compost pile like meat, chips, or fatty foods. The main concern from consumers regarding composting is the odor, but Barbara states that odor is a sign that dry material is needed because the pile is most likely too wet. Although composting is an environmentally friendly way to reduce individual and community food waste, if it is not managed properly, it can have a damaging affect. This includes horrible odor, potential fire from material within the compost pile, and groundwater contamination. Another problem is that composting requires a lot of time and energy. It seems that many Americans are already struggling to survive, living in a fast-paced society which focuses on work. This leaves consumers little or no time to care for environmental matters, even an issue so detrimental like food waste.
Every single day, a grotesque amount of food is being wasted in the United States. It is estimated that are seven billion people currently on the planet, and with the amount of communication and intermixing taking place, the population is only set to increase. With that being said, wasting food makes no sense ethically, economically, and environmentally. There is simply too much at stake, especially at the rate in which the world population is growing. Tackling food waste is not something that an individual can do alone. It is a world effort and requires participation from every human being. Reducing food waste is a global challenge that joins many other issues like hunger in which 800 million people are starving in the world (“”Food Waste””, 2017). When any type of food is made, natural resources are allocated, and if they are not being taken care of and preserved, the cycle will eventually stop.
Many other countries like France have passed laws to take control of their food waste issues, it is about time that the United States begins to do the same. As previously stated, reducing consumer food waste starts with education, and less blame. Food waste is a collective issue and should be treated as such. Food is a precious resource and should be treated as such. The same way consumers protect their most expensive jewelry and clothes is the same way that they should be treating their food. Consumers should try to gain more knowledge of date labeling, composting, and practice behavioral and attitude changes in order to do their part in lessening this issue. Fruits and vegetables are health staples, yet they are wasted the most. It is also important to note that most Americans recognize food waste as an issue, but forty-two million people (“”Food Waste””, 2017) suffer from food-insecurity, living well below minimum wage. Through the combination of education, food waste recycling like composting, and practicing better shopping and storing habits, food waste can best be solved on the consumer level. As for the rest of the food chain, they must also do their part as it will take all seven continents working together to solve this trillion-dollar issue.