The city's snowy trash piles do a solid job illustrating the amount of waste we produce on a regular basis. But it takes an unfathomable number to put into perspective how much we, as a nation, are generally horrible at using edible food. The USDA's latest study on the subject offers the mind-boggling sum of 141 trillion to represent the number of calories America wastes on food each year. That's a lotta Shack burgers.
The study tracked loss of edible food, post-harvest that was available for human consumption but somehow never made it past our gaping maws. Examples of loss include things like mold and pests; "blemished" food discarded by retailers before it even gets to the store; and so called "plate waste," or whatever was leftover from your Tebow tribute sandwich. The agency discovered that 133 billion—or 31%—of the 430 billion pounds of available food went uneaten in 2010. Of those, an alarming 21% came from consumers alone.
If the thought of hungry kids who could have used those extra calories doesn't move you (monster), take a gander at the economic impact: the estimated value of all that food waste rings in at $161.6 billion annually. We don't waste food equally across the board, either. Coming in on top were meat, poultry and fish at $48 billion, then vegetables at $30 billion and finally dairy products at $27 billion. No one in their right mind should ever waste delicious cheese.
Sadly, food waste isn't a new trend. Initiatives locally to prevent food waste have been moderately successful insofar as they've helped level out the amount of junk we send to landfills. But that's just a bandaid on the larger problem of not managing the food properly to begin with, whether it means decreasing ridiculous portion sizes or getting better estimates on the "amount and value of food loss" to prompt legislation on the topic. Not only would it reduce the food waste and ideally help the hungry, it would also reduce the economic waste. We welcome our new $.50 slice overlords.