We live in a strange world. While in some countries, millions of people must go without food, starving on a daily basis, in other countries, more than half the food produced goes into the trash. This is absurd. We have to do away with the notion that there is not enough food to go around, because, quite simply, there is. We are just wasting it at alarming rates.
Exactly How Much Food Is Being Wasted Here?
It is estimated that 25-40% of the food produced, manufactured, and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed. Around 133 billion pounds of this food ends up in landfills annually, becoming a significant source of methane once it rots. With 21 times the global warming potential as carbon monoxide, methane is an ecological threat we cannot ignore.
What’s worse, the main culprit behind this waste is not rot, but aesthetics. Most major grocery stores will not accept produce that isn’t perfectly uniform in shape and size, and most consumers wouldn’t buy it if they did because they’ve been conditioned to see ‘ugly’ produce as inferior. (Though, believe it or not, nature is not uniform.) This leaves all of the “unfit” produce fit only for the trash.
On a personal note, one of the things I love most about farmers markets is how real the produce looks, how beautiful it is for being unique and ‘flawed.’
This all happens before the food even makes it’s way to grocery stores, but what happens after that?
Why Do Grocery Stores Throw Away So Much Perfectly Good Food?
We associate a successful grocery store with well-stocked shelves, and frequent them more because we know we’ll find everything we need in one spot. In fact, research has found that customers are more likely to purchase produce from a fully stocked display, whether at the grocery store or the farmers market. Simply put, we perceive food as better quality when it’s more abundant. But to keep shelves looking full like this, grocery stores buy more than they can actually sell, which costs us all in the long run. This also damages the produce sitting at the bottom of the stacks and thus creates more waste, since any piece of produce that is even slightly bruised gets tossed in the trash.
Sell-by, use-by, best-by: Most consumers don’t even know what these dates mean. They serve as guidelines for grocers, indicating when foods are at their peak freshness, but in general, foods are still completely fine well after their “expiration” dates. Out of fear of not being able to sell their products, grocers will often pull these items from the shelves days before these dates, and either sell them at a reduced cost — perfect for smart bargain hunters! — or toss them. Considering all of the energy required to make the cardboard or plastic packaging and to transport the food in the first place, more than mere calories are being wasted here.
What Are Some Better Alternatives To This Food Waste Epidemic?
Luckily there are some initiatives, such as Feeding America, Second Harvest, and End FoodWaste Now, that are working to shift this problem by working with farmers to prevent food waste and encouraging grocers to donate, rather than toss, food pulled from the shelves.
There are also many people across the nation taking it upon themselves to limit waste. Known as Dumpster Divers, they face a great deal of stigma, but they are doing some real good. In fact, more and more people are eating almost entirely for free, and many dumpster divers assert that there is more good food available in the dumpsters behind grocery stores than they can even consume. So, since many grocery stores do not bother to donate this food themselves, many generous citizens are taking it upon themselves and taking action!
Take Pennsylvania brothers-in-law Tony Moyer and Sam Troyer, for example. They had been dumpster diving for the last 10 months and donating food to those in need, but were arrested in October for their good deeds. Check out the video below for more information.
The Nicest Guys Ever… Arrested For Doing Good
How Can You Help?
If you feel like these men were unfairly punished, you can help raise awareness about this issue by sharing this story! You can also donate to the Dumpster Divers Defense Fund to help cover the cost of legal fees for these men and other people like them.
This fund will also help to raise awareness about food waste in general, which goes astonishingly underreported. The ultimate goal here is to have grocers donate food themselves, so that it doesn’t end up in the dumpster in the first place, or to drastically cut food costs to make it more affordable for all. Chances are, when you are paying for your food from a grocery store, you are paying for what is wasted as well.
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