Having our food and eating our food are not the same.
The fall harvest season can bring to mind the ability of U.S. farmers to produce abundant supplies of safe, wholesome foods. Additionally, shopping at the market I see aisles stacked from floor to nearly the ceiling with seemingly endless choices of food. However, let’s remember having all this food available to us does not mean we are being effective consumers.
Food loss and food waste are becoming increasingly important issues as the world’s population grows and significantly increases pressure on agricultural land and other necessary resources. Recently, USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers calculated that at the consumer level, 31% of food available for human consumption in the United States in 2010 was not eaten. At 2010 retail prices, this translates into $161.6 billion worth of food. Think of the economic and social losses from this waste. It is important to note that some food loss is unavoidable as we seek to provide an affordable, diverse, and safe food supply. Identifying how much and where food loss occurs in the food system is the first step in efforts to reduce food waste.
|Between the farm and our plate - much food can be lost.|
On a per person basis, 290 pounds, or 0.8 pounds per day, of food was wasted in 2010. This is valued at $371, or 9% of the $4,016 average amount spent on food per person in 2010. Meat, poultry, and fish; vegetables; and dairy products accounted for most of this annual loss.
As we consider the value of the food we have and how to adequately feed everyone, perhaps we can try to minimize the waste we generate ourselves. By more effectively utilizing the resources necessary to feed ourselves we may be able do a better job of feeding others. Awareness of the scope and sources of food loss will likely result in new government policies, enhanced food-handling practices and technologies, behavioral changes among consumers, or other actions that reduce food waste and conserve resources.
This article is based on information in: Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, by Jeanine Bentley and Jean Buzby, writers for the USDA, Economic Research Service, and published November 2012.