The U.S. Food & Drug Administration estimates that food waste is 30 to 40% of the U.S. Food supply. Meanwhile, the Economic Research Service (ERS) study dated September 2022 (the latest report) finds that 10.2 percent of all U.S. households were food insecure. The term refers to “households that had some difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of lack of resources.” Food insecurity and low food security are used interchangeably. From the same ERS study, the report states, “In 2021, 3.8 percent of U.S. households had a very low food security.”
The USDA graph shows that food insecurity statistics have stayed pretty much the same over the last 20 years, so Covid was not the culprit.
Why not use the wasted food to feed the food insecure?
It’s not simple. Overproduction of agricultural outputs, for instance, cannot always be moved to fill food insecurities because it spoils. Even if it could be put into a can, the canning plants could be at capacity. Work stoppages occur from time to time. Import and export snafus affect supplies over and under to cause surpluses and shortages.
Weather happens. Agricultural underproduction can result from droughts as well as flooding. Distribution channels are sticky. Over-production of bread from the local bakery may or may not have available transportation to the community food bank. Once at the food bank, there may be no staff to unload it and either distribute it directly or pass it on to more remote areas where people can get it.
- Is it an infrastructure problem?
- Is it a volunteer shortage?
- Is it a lack of innovation?
- An absence of motivation?
- A failing of education
How can the food waste be decreased in the first place?
A September 9-10, 2023, Wall Street Journal article by Josh Zumbrun suggests food expiration dates are part of the cause of food waste and food shortage! And the well-respected non-profit Refed.org does an excellent job of identifying food waste causes. One of the causes is at the consumer level. Few people know what the used by, best by, enjoy by, or any of the other “by’s” or “until’s” mean on food labels. It’s more surprising to know that these dates are not federally regulated! Retailers are also guilty of throwing food out that may or may not be bad, but do they dare sell anything “past the date”? Probably not. It is time to look at food date labels.
What does food waste have to do with climate change?
It’s one word: Landfill. For all the food dumped into landfill, landfill gas (LFG) is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material in those landfills. LFG is about 50% methane, and methane is “a potent greenhouse gas at least 28 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year period.” Per the World Economic Forum, tackling methane is one of the quickest ways to slow climate change.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Many people are hungry. Many people are throwing away perfectly good food. Many dates on our food labels are unnecessary and mostly misunderstood.
Climate change could be lessened if more people knew what happens to food in our landfills. One great way to start is to educate ourselves; and an excellent way to do that is through the Carbon Almanac.
It’s. Not. Too. Late… to save our planet.