America's Wasted Bounty

Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture,    CC 2.0

Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture, CC 2.0


I make a mean omelet. I start with a fresh carton of eggs and crack the first five directly into the trash. Next, I whisk the remaining seven eggs with three ounces of whole milk, taking care to spill two additional ounces onto my kitchen floor. I cook over medium heat and add half a bundle of fresh spinach, leaving the other half to rot in the back of my fridge. When the yolks start to solidify, I serve immediately in gargantuan portions. Clean-up is a breeze after I scrape my brunch guests’ perfectly edible leftovers into the garbage!

The above paragraph is ridiculous and, for the record, false. But that’s basically how we treat our food system. In the United States 40% of food goes uneaten. Broccoli rots in farm fields, unharvested due to labor shortages in agriculture. Apples are trashed from grocery store displays for minor cosmetic blemishes. And fresh strawberries turn…not so fresh after months forgotten in the dark recesses of the back of the fridge.

All that wasted food means squandered resources. Agriculture swallows two fifths of the water used in the United States. Wasting a pound of steak is equivalent to leaving the shower running for six hours. That’s not to mention all the labor, fertilizer and pesticide that also go into growing food. Despite these massive investments in agriculture, food is the single largest contributor to the nation’s landfills.

But people and organizations are working to change the status quo. Komal Ahmad created Copia, a smartphone app that matches hungry consumers with surplus food from businesses. Toronto restaurant Farmhouse Tavern slashes the price of its menu items at week’s end to ensure all their food is sold, not wasted. France has even passed a national law that forbids grocery stores from discarded uneaten food. And there are plenty of online guides to help you reduce food waste at home (hint: the freezer is your friend!).

The Water Main produced Just Eat It: Why Food Waste Matters, a radio special that explores the issue of food waste and highlights possible solutions. Listen here online. Enjoy! And don’t follow my omelet recipe.

Daniel Ackerman