Food is a basic necessity at the heart of human existence. Where our food comes from, and how it is labeled, are two vital issues in the raging debate over food production in the United States. Corporate leviathans like Monsanto are dumping pesticides into our food chain and altering the genetic composition of the sustenance we consume daily. Admirably, new campaigns have emerged that revolve around sustainable, locally sourced, organic, and properly labeled food. “Slow Food Nation” has emerged as an answer to the powerful fast food chains that have spent generations digging into our pockets and expanding our waist-lines.
The food debates will continue to rage in this country as our citizens wake up to the unhealthy conditions and inefficient production that have become legitimized by the industry. No matter what your position is on food, one issue, which gets very little attention, is the inordinate amount of food wasted on a daily basis in the United States. From the farms that produce our fare through the journey that food takes on highways to supermarkets and eventually into our bellies, over 40% of our food is wasted.
We are pouring out massive amounts of labor and natural resources for a life or death commodity just to waste nearly half of it. 50% of our land is dedicated to food production while it soaks up 80% of all fresh water in the country. How is it possible to lose so much?
Unfortunately, in the United States, food represents a small enough portion of household budgets that people still choose the convenience of wasting food over the time necessary to eliminate waste. Additionally, it is profitable for some companies to produce more food than the market needs for consumption. As a result, major players in the industry are unconcerned about waste because the purchase of excess food means potentially higher profits. These are just two of the many factors that add up to wasting nearly half our food.
Well, what can we do? Many experts agree that a sizable percentage (some estimate up to 20%) of food could be saved if we simply had a better grasp of food labels. Many packaged foods are trashed simply because they have exceeded their “best by” label, but they are still perfectly fine for consumption. One example of how I save is by shopping at salvage stores that sell past date foods and items salvaged from closed supermarkets and mega-pharmacies. This is advantageous because I consume food that would be normally destined for the landfill while saving money (I usually get at least a 60% discount on the salvaged goods I buy). For more information on the growing salvaged food industry check out www.bananabox.com for an example of a wholesaler that sells salvaged goods.
If we can reduce our wasted food it will mean more hungry mouths will be fed. At the same time we will reduce our consumption of precious resources such as the fresh water used in production and the fuel needed for transporting these goods. It is simple to be more mindful of how we preserve our excess food and how we store it while paying close attention to our how we are spending our food budget with an emphasis on efficiency. This is a small way that we can make a difference on an individual level that will make a better collective reality for all.