There’s a serious food shortage in the world today. But how much of that is our fault?

Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal examines the shortage of food all over the world today, and explores the reasons as to why so many people are still without enough food. Tristram Stuart, the author, travelled all over the world in search of answers to this question. His findings are shocking, to say the least. On average, Americans waste 50% of the food that they buy, and we dump over 20 million tons of food annually. Needless to say, 20 million tons of food could go a long way in feeding the hungry.

Stuart was raised in a family that did whatever they could to not waste food. He recalls being scolded by his grandmother when he was a child for throwing out a tea bag that he had “only used once”. Therefore, he is in a somewhat unique spot to be able to rightfully criticize others who are wasteful. However, his findings were that the biggest culprits of food waste are, not surprisingly, supermarkets. Every year, supermarkets send thousands of tons of food straight to the landfill. He gives examples in the book about other wasteful practices, and one that stood out to me was the fact that some supermarkets insist that their bread suppliers cut off the end pieces and one additional piece from each side. While some consumers undoubtedly appreciate the act, it ends up amounting to over 13,000 slices of fresh bread a day.

One other thing that Stuart touches on are the “best by” dates on packaged and perishable food. These dates are seen as hard deadlines by most consumer families, and once an item gets near or past that date, it generally goes straight into the trash. Stuart’s research, however, has led him to conclude that food is almost always good days, if not weeks, past the “best by” date, and all these deadlines do is help create massive amounts of unneccessary waste.

Stuart’s main argument in the book is that the food shortage in the world is self created. We don’t need to deforest the planet in order to get food, he argues, because we should be able to feed everyone with what we have. He presents some eye opening statistics that insinuate that he may be right. There is plenty of food in the world for everyone; it’s just up to us, the upper and middle classes, not to waste it.

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19 responses »

  1. Jim says:

    This was an interesting post and made me think generation WE and what someone could do to mitigate the waste associated with grocery stores. In clothing stores, there are often racks in the back with extensive discounts on clothes that the store can’t seem to sell for full value. I wonder if something like this might be possible for grocery stores, or if it would be possible for the FDA to allow certain items to be sold after their “best by” day provided that that information is communicated clearly to consumers. I have heard of food pantries that partner with supermarkets to get all of the vegetables and fruits that cannot be sold any longer, this post makes we wonder what other uses we could put wasted food towards.

  2. Connie says:

    This post actually reminds me of a Food Network special that I watched over winter break. It was called “The Big Waste,” and basically, first-class chefs such as Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Anne Burrell, and Alex Guarnaschelli had 48 hours to cook a multi-course gourmet meal using only food that was on its way to being thrown out. I actually don’t think I finished watching it, but I did watch enough of it to see just how much waste supermarkets, butcher shops, and restaurants are forced to throw out. I noticed a lot of what gets thrown out has to do with how the food looks; fruits with a bit of bruising, tips of meat that no one would actually eat (but could be used in stock or something), or even just leftover sifted cocoa powder. For one shop that the chefs visit, the owner throws away about $40 worth of food everyday. In fact, 40% of the food that gets produced in the United States doesn’t get eaten! It’s ridiculous to think about how much of this “waste” would actually be valuable to those struggling to even scrap up enough money to get a loaf of bread

    If anyone’s interested: http://www.foodnetwork.com/food-network-specials/the-big-waste/index.html has some clips from the special.

  3. Jordi says:

    I saw this book in the Earth Day choices. I almost got it…

  4. Jordi says:

    OMG. I have huge fights with my kids and wife all the time over pull dates. If I can’t see modl or smell something fishy, I’ll eat it. And also, refrigerating kethcup or mustard. Please. They don’t need it. They have vinegar and sugar, both of them food preservatives!

    • scoutberger says:

      My mom and I are just like you. With the exception of milk, I am pretty lenient with my food. If it still smells ok, looks ok, and feels ok I deem it safe to eat. My sister is the polar opposite. She is a complete health nut and will throw out food the day it passes the sticker dates. The amount of food that is wasted because of this is absolutely absurd. Here at school I live with four other girls and for the most part we all do grocery shopping and our own cooking. There was one instance I can remember where one of the girls throughout out half of her bag of english muffins. Assuming something was wrong with them she claimed that they were old. I happened to notice the sticker on the bag and it was the day of the “best by sticker.” While I certainly didn’t dig through her garbage to see for myself, I have a strong feeling they were perfectly fine.

    • Jeff Galloway says:

      My mom is like this too, she can be really stingy about expiration dates. My dad is the polar opposite, and he and I are the same way as Scout when it comes to that kind of thing. I’ve wondered if it has to do with the fact that my mom loves cooking and generally does the cooking for our family. I think that she doesn’t feel right if she cooks for others with food that has technically “expired”, whereas my dad and I don’t really care if what we personally eat isn’t perfect

  5. Zach says:

    I got off my meal plan this semester and started cooking for myself because I couldn’t deal with the fried food everyday thing that seems to be common place at most fraternities around here. One thing about shopping for yourself is that it’s really hard to use all the ingredients I buy in one meal. That means I always have leftover supplies. The use by dates only recommend a couple of days which really puts me in a bind in terms of wasting food (or money). I looked online and found the website Stilltasty.com. It gives more realistic dates for all the foods you can think of and has definitely helped me out.

  6. Paul Martin says:

    Sounds like an interesting book. It seems like a lot of the world’s problems usually have simple solutions, yet the problem always seems to be that the solutions “cost too much.” I assume the reason that supermarkets, or anyone else for that matter, throw out food instead of doing something with it, is that its simply cheaper. I was shocked by the statistic Connie said that 40% of the food produced in the US doesn’t get eaten. At first I thought how is that possible? But, like Zach mentioned, its easy to see how this is common place if you live somewhere like a fraternity house. When food is bought in bulk (supermarkets) or cooked in bulk (fraternities, the Caf, etc.) it seems inevitable that most of it goes to waste.

    • Jeff Galloway says:

      You make a good point with fraternities here on campus. I thought the same thing when I read the book about how much food that is made in bulk ends up going to waste. Every meal at our house, all the excess food is visible after we’ve all eaten. It makes you wonder what individual, small scale operations like a college fraternity house could do in order to help this problem.

  7. Marko says:

    Excellent choice of book. Actually I already read the same book before and loved it. The book shows that sources of waste exist all along the food chain. For example, farmers may grow 25% extra to ensure meeting contracts and avoid expensive penalties, large numbers of fish are thrown back or die because they are too small or the wrong species. The author points out that farmers lose additional amounts, especially in third-world nations, due to inadequate storage, lack of refrigeration, and exposure to sunlight. Food packagers and retailers create more waste through largely aesthetic standards and overstocking to avoid potentially lost sales. This book provides so many other great examples of preventable waste around the world.

  8. brookeparker16 says:

    Connie, I watched that episode too! At first I thought it was gross that they were making meals out of wasted food but than I ended up being grossed out that so much food was wasted. I also think that this is an issue that has not recently had a lot of attention. I feel like if more people understand exactly how much food went to waste we could implement an easy solution. Right now if no one cares then for many businesses it is not worth it to change their practices.

  9. Hannah says:

    Everything you mentioned here from the book was also said by a speaker that came to Bucknell first semester (I suck and forgot his name but I think his last name was Bloom….?) He also talked about how much we waste, especially on college campuses. Think about how much food is delivered to the caf everyday, and then think about how much students throw away in the caf. When we bring up 5 plates everytime we go there, most of the time there is about half of our servings still left on the plate which goes straight to waste. I think it’s great that you picked up this book because it shows that we for a large part are a major cause to a global problem.

  10. Cheryl says:

    I’ll definitely check out this book if I have a chance! The statistics is just shocking. Wasting 20 millions tons of food every year is just absurd, knowing that that amount of food could have gone to feed tons of the hungry. Instead of gathering statistics about how many people die of hunger every year and complaining that the government should do something about it, people should just look at their actions first. About the problem with the “best by” dates, I think the best way to minimize the amount of food wasted due to that is to try to grocery-shop more frequently and buy food in smaller amount every time. That might help to make sure that you use up everything before the expiration/best-by dates

  11. Claire McCardell says:

    Sounds like a really interesting book! I totally agree that Americans probably waste a significant portion of the food they buy, I know I’m guilty of it. But what I found most interesting was the author’s own experience of being raised to “not waste food.” I think most of us (and our parents) grew up in an age where we were expected to clear our plates and eat everything that was put in front of us. However, I remember reading an article awhile ago that children who were raised by parents that strictly enforced the “clear your plate” mentality were more likely to grow up to be obese than children who were raised by more flexible parents (who preached the “eat until you’re full” mentality). It looks like a tricky balancing act to teach children to not be wasteful, but at the same time not to overeat, and I’m not sure if there is a clear solution. Did the author mention anything about this?

    Source: “Child Obesity Linked to “Clean Your Plate” Mentality…”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2006/06/05/child-obesity-linked-to-c_n_22215.html

  12. Marc says:

    I don’t think many people are that surprised to see that the US is a major source of waste when it comes to anything, let alone food. The sheer numbers are staggering and it seems like the book is very interesting in pointing out these figures. I was wondering if it mentioned anything about how to solve these kinds of problems in the US. I’m sure that there are enough people who try to bring up awareness about this issue, but I’m not sure what is being done about it. Is the main solution that people should keep their food past the use by dates? Or does he bring up other solutions?

    • Jeff Galloway says:

      His main solution/idea is that we can do a lot with the food that we are wasting. For example, why are supermarkets disposing over 75% of their unsold food instead of donating it to charities or hunger organizations? He also questions the motives behind the expiration dates – the sooner things expire, the sooner the consumer has to spend more money in the supermarket – even if the original product is still completely fine.

  13. […] had already read Most enlightening — Marc H. Best find for your paper – Marko Best post with a newfound book – Jeff Inversely proportional title and post – Jim ethics Share […]

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