Food Waste in America

Food Waste Dumpster

Today is a day for American families to sit around the table and offer thanks for our friends and families and the bounties bestowed on us. It is also a day millions of hungry Americans will find themselves at the food kitchens enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

In the evening, a few days ago a storm blew-in and knocked down some small trees taken down power lines. The next morning I drove into town and witnessed a local grocery store throwing away hundreds of pounds of food. They had two dumpsters lined-up and one of them was already filled to the top with cartons of freshly prepared salads, cakes with fruit toping, daily products, and gallons of fresh fruit juices.

It reminded me of an essay I wrote and edited by Melody Haislip a couple of years back when I interned for Project Censored and Dr. Peter Phillips at Sonoma State University. A portion of the essay dealt with the problems of food waste and the rising cost of food both in the U.S. and worldwide.

Today, I am republishing a part of this essay originally published in the book Censored 2012 by Seven Stories Press. The following is an excerpt from that essay. Sadly, I am certain not much has changed since this essay was published:

“Another under-reported story relating to poverty and hunger exposed the persistent problem of food waste in America. According to a March 31, 2010 article, published in California Watch, a Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting and USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, authored by Tina Mather, Kimberly Daniels, and Shannon Pence, California’s largest single source of waste is food. While poverty and hunger are on the rise in the U.S., California alone throws away more than 6 million tons of food each year (15).

According to Jonathon Bloom, author of the book American Wasteland, “Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce for consumption. That comes at an annual cost of more than $100 billion. At the same time, food prices and the number of Americans without enough to eat continues to rise” (16).

Worldwide, the problem of food waste and poverty is not much different. On May 11, 2011, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a stunning report that received almost zero coverage from the mainstream media.

According to the report titled “Global Food losses and Food Waste,” “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — that’s approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.” Interestingly, the FAO report states amongst its key findings, “Industrialized and developing countries dissipate [waste] roughly the same quantities of food — respectively 670 and 630 million tons” (17).

While Americans throw away roughly 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S., and the rest of the world tosses out 33 percent of their food, the price of food has skyrocketed. In another one of Project Censored’s 2012 top 25 stories, food prices are creating a global crisis. In a web only article for the magazine In These Times, titled, Diet Hard: With a Vengeance, senior editor David Moberg unravels the web of interwoven factors that create global food prices. Moberg points out that according to a February, 2011 FAO report, the food price index rose to the highest level since 1990. Moberg writes:
“As a result, since 2010 began, roughly another 44 million people have quietly crossed the threshold into malnutrition, joining 925 million already suffering from lack of food. If prices continue to rise, this food crisis will push the ranks of the hungry toward a billion people, with another two billion suffering from “hidden malnutrition” of inadequate diets, nearly all in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America” (18).

Moberg attributes the rise in malnutrition to climate change and the rise in food prices. Moberg points to an October FAO report from the Committee on World Food Security which concluded climate change will affect, “the livelihoods, food security, and way of life of billions of people.” The FAO committee concludes, “climate change multiplies existing threats and…increases the vulnerability…to food insecurity” (19).

However, the FAO committee determined the single greatest factor in the current food crisis is not the threat of global warming, or the diversion of 40 percent of U.S. corn into biofuels, which has been problematic. The number one threat to food security worldwide, and the cause of much of the world’s food shortages and starvation, turns out to be bad polices and unregulated free-market speculation. While there is no lack of food, millions of people die each year from malnutrition and starvation as a result of decades-old bad policies which have allowed multinational corporations and wild-west speculators to enter food staples into commodities markets.

Moberg points out, “By contrast, many countries, civil society groups, environmentalists, advocates for the poor, and representatives of peasants and small farmers say that food should be treated as a human right. And countries should strive for food security and as much self-sufficiency as can reasonably be achieved, as Karen Lehman, former senior fellow at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, argues.”

The primary conclusion from the October FAO report is that government policies that have led to mismanaged and unregulated trade systems have resulted in less self-sufficiency and less food security globally. The FAO report states that increased volatility created by free-market speculators, “threatens farm viability (low prices), food security (high prices), undermines investment decisions, and threatens domestic security and political stability,” As Tim Wise, policy research director for Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute points out in Moberg’s article, “The big picture about rising food prices is that one of the things that globalization has done is increasingly to put food reserves in private hands, … You get speculation and hoarding if people feel there’s a shortage of supply.”

Moberg’s article concludes by pointing out that “new global investments in agriculture derivatives reached $2.6 billion in December, double the level a year earlier.” Moberg suggests immediate limits on financial speculators in commodity future index derivatives and ultimately a complete ban on such agricultural derivatives. In addition, he suggests individual countries and even local communities go back to maintaining their own food reserves and demand the freedom domestically to control their own food polices, in order to assure self-sufficiency.”


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