So this statistic took me by surprise: in the U.S., forty percent of our food gets thrown away. How can this be? While a lot of food is lost in the production phase, sixty percent of wasted food can be linked to the consumer. According to research conducted at the University of Arizona, households waste 14 percent of their total food purchases. I admit, I’ve forgotten about several food items over the years, finding them lying at the back of my fridge long expired. I’m guessing this phenomenon accounts for a large portion of the waste, with other culprits being confusion over the difference of “sell by” and “best before” dates, and a general cautionary treatment of food that one isn’t sure about. By the end of the year, a family of four is reported to have thrown a combined 1600 dollars of food into the trash.
The drawbacks of wasting food, however, go far past the financial. Around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions can be linked to agriculture, and disposed food generates methane once it decomposes, a greenhouse gas twenty times deadlier than carbon dioxide in the fight against global warming. The good news is that Seattle is among the cities that have established curbside food-scrap collection programs, and the number of cities participating in this kind of conservation is growing. But although the amount of food reaching the landfills is shrinking, it would still benefit the environment greatly if we cut down on the level of food waste we created. Dana Gunders, a scientist with the NRDC, estimates that the annual amount of water used to produce food that goes uneaten could fill a barren Lake Erie.
The lesson in the end seems to be a simple one-we need to make sure we buy only what we know we can eat, and do our best to eat all that we buy. Instead of throwing out leftovers, we can save them for later; even if they aren’t much, they can always accompany something larger. And of course, starting a compost pile can go a long way.