A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how much food is wasted because we supermarket shoppers prefer “attractive” produce. Ugly, misshapen, blemished produce doesn’t even make it in the doors of most large grocery stores. In fact, it often doesn’t make it out of the field! Not having been previously aware of the scope of this type of food loss, I had lots of questions about it.

So I was quite delighted to read this post from the Sierra Club on the same topic. It includes lots of great links to related information. In particular was a link to this report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service about food loss in the United States. It explains so much! Admittedly, some of their data is quite old, and the report itself is from January 2007. But even so, even adjusting for the possibility that the numbers have improved, much of what the report describes is still valid. It explains, in very understandable language, how both edible and inedible food is lost at each step of the food chain, beginning with the farm and ending with us throwing away moldy leftovers from our refrigerators.

A few statistics that caught my attention in the report:

“…about 96 billion pounds of food, or 27 percent of the 356 billion
pounds of the edible food available for human consumption in the United States,
were lost to human use… in 1995.” (pg. 3)

“If even 5 percent of the 96 billion pounds were recovered, that quantity
would represent the equivalent of a day’s food for each of 4 million people.”
(pg. 3)

“From foods forgotten and spoiled in the refrigerator to the uneaten
vegetables tossed in the garbage, consumer and foodservice food waste is the
single largest source of food loss in the marketing chain. Estimated at 91
billion pounds, this food loss accounted for 26 percent of the edible food
available for human consumption in 1995.” (pg. 6)

What astounding statistics! 91 of the 96 billion pounds of food lost each year in the United States is lost during and after it is prepared for eating! If those figures are accurate, imperfect produce is a significantly smaller problem then the food we leave on our plates at restaurants, the uneaten salad bar items, and the food we purchased with good intentions but failed to cook before it went bad.

It seems so recoverable! (See second statistic above.) It feels like something each of us could really act on. What would happen if we all started buying only what we could realistically prepare and eat in a given time period? What if, instead of leaving half our “supersized” meal on the plate at the restaurant, we took it home – and then actually ate the leftovers rather than just throwing them away a week later? Think of how many people the “extra” food we don’t buy or throw away could feed! And as a side benefit, think how much money would we save if we bought only what we actually ate!

I understand that this topic is really much more complex. There are many, many issues surrounding it, not the least of which is how this “extra” food would even get to the people who need it. But still. I love the closeness of these numbers. It’s not only what some distant farmer is deciding about his crops. It’s about what I’m doing with the food in my refrigerator, and what I’m doing at the restaurant on Friday night. It illustrates that my daily life is part of both the cause and solution of ensuring everyone can eat. And in that, I find power and a great source of hope.