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ELCA World Hunger

Getting into recovery

Now that I’m living down the road from the family farm, asked my mom in a phone call today, could I please do something about the fruit trees? Prune them, care for them, harvest them? Clear the weeds away from the overgrown lingonberries and blueberries? And line up some kind of charity for the unused fruit, since that’s not the tenants’ job?

I hadn’t realized that these trees and bushes had been neglected. Which got me thinking about food waste.

“Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce for consumption,” says journalist Jonathan Bloom. “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.”

Bloom’s website and blog,, and his new book, American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half its Food (and What We Can Do About It) detail the problem and lift up emerging solutions.  Like the dining hall trays temporarily or permanently banished by colleges like Luther and Wartburg. Like links to fact sheets that help stores and restaurants give away food safely. And lists of food recovery groups that are trying to connect wasted abundance with real need. (How are you doing on that Lenten meal of scavenged or recovered food that I suggested in my last post?)

My family’s fruit trees should be feeding more than the birds. Tending them, making  pies and jam, and sharing their harvest are small steps away from our culture’s “take-make-waste” paradigm (as Annie Leonard of Story of Stuff calls it).  But I’m always looking for new ways to do that. So sure, mom. I’m on it! Recovery, here I come.

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal

Is Anything Molding in Your Refrigerator?

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.

Selecting the Perfect Produce


When you go to the grocery store to buy produce, how do you select precisely which, say, apples or green peppers you’re going to buy? I, for one, go for those that I deem have the best appearance. I reject those with too many spots, I try to choose a color and ripeness that seem good, and depending what I want it for, size sometimes also plays a role.

And then I read this, in the book The End of Food by Paul Roberts:

“Because consumers have come to expect their produce to be as uniform and blemish free as packaged foods, retailers insist that fruits and vegetables meet exacting criteria for quality, visual attractiveness, size, and weight. Avocados headed for the United Kingdom, for example, must come within a half ounce of a target weight. Green beans bound for France must be straight and precisely 100 millimeters long.” (pg. 65)

Hey! I’m that consumer! Well, ok, I don’t require every bean to be exactly the same length. But blemish-free, attractive, size – that’s all me.

The passage goes on to explain that because retailers will only accept a portion of what’s grown, farmers overplant to ensure they get enough perfect produce to meet their agreements with retailers. One exporter said his retail sales account for about 50% or 60% of the running beans he grows; the rest aren’t straight enough. Another 30% of his crop can be processed. But the remaining 10 to 20 percent is thrown away. Though the passage doesn’t explain why, from the larger context of the book, I assume it’s because the remaining 10% or 20% is irregular to a degree that it can’t easily go through the mechanized processing equipment and therefore is not worth the cost of processing.

Think of that. Farmers intentionally grow more than they can sell with the intent of throwing tons of it away! And somehow, I’m wrapped up in this waste, because I’m the one demanding perfect food. I’m not sure what to do with that knowledge. Perhaps the book will help me out; I’m only halfway through it. But there are certainly some opportunities here. Opportunities for me to be more mindful of my food buying criteria, and surely an opportunity for tons of irregular food to be put to better use.

Does anyone know more about this? There’s got to be more to this story, and I’d love to hear about it. Please comment if you have something to add!

-Nancy Michaelis