food waste

America Throws Away Half of Its Edible Produce

All perfectly edible. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Please enjoy this week’s extremely depressing food-waste stat, which comes courtesy of a story in today’s Guardian: New research suggests that fully one-half of the nation’s produce now probably ends up as garbage. This dismal nugget from the story pretty well summarizes the findings:

Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards, according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials.

The story distinguishes waste that’s “downstream,” or ruined because it goes bad on a grocery shelf or sits forever in a fridge bin, from waste that’s “upstream.” The first kind supposedly accounts for $160 billion worth of produce every year — which isn’t hard to believe when you remember each American family single-handedly trashes $600 worth of food in that time frame — but factor in ugly produce left to rot in the field or rejected by grocery stores, and The Guardian estimates this figure quickly climbs to half of all of the fruits and vegetables the country grows.

Lately there’s no shortage of efforts to curb spoilage, but more and more activists argue it’s futile, considering how food waste is now “built into the economics of food production.” As one farmer explains:

“I can tell you for a fact that I have delivered products to supermarkets that was [sic] absolutely gorgeous and because their sales were slow, the last two days they didn’t take my product and they sent it back to me …

“They will dig through 50 cases to find one bad head of lettuce and say: ‘I am not taking your lettuce when that lettuce would pass a USDA inspection.’ But as the farmer told you, there is nothing you can do, because if you [complain to the USDA], they are never going to buy from you again. Are you going to jeopardise $5 million in sales over an $8,000 load?”

As a result, producers themselves are now part of the problem. As one tells The Guardian, modern farming boils down to two choices: “What happens in our business today is that it is either perfect, or it gets rejected. It is perfect to them, or they turn it down. And then you are stuck.”

America Throws Away Half of Its Edible Produce