The Collegian
Thursday, February 29, 2024

96 billion pounds of food is a terrible waste

This weekend I was caught doing something I never do: cleaning. I straightened up my room, Swiffered the floor and even reluctantly cleaned out the refrigerator.

I felt like Christopher Columbus as I discovered new and unknown colonies of living specimen on uneaten cheeses, meats and salsas that I suspect have been cultivating at the back of said fridge since the first few weeks of school.

After throwing out half the contents of the fridge, I started to feel queasy. Not because most of the food had sprouted arms, but because I couldn't stop thinking about how much food I had wasted.

University Forest Apartment refrigerators cower in size compared to the mainstream stainless steel ones that everybody and their stay-at-home mom seems to have.

Which got me to wondering, how much food, on average, do we waste a year on over-packing our fridges and throwing out what we forgot we had, months after our food has expired?

According to an article in the New York Times (From Farm to Fridge to Garbage Can, by Tara Parker-Pope), almost half of the food produced in the United States is wasted; thrown out by grocery stores, restaurants and private homes as well as left to rot in the fields where it is grown.

That same article referenced a study done in New York, which showed that 40 percent of wasted food comes from private homes. Another reference was made to a study conducted by the University of Arizona, called the Garbage Project in which food waste in the home was tracked for over three decades.

In that study, it was estimated that 25 percent of the food we buy for at-home use is wasted. So, as the article states, "a family of four that spends $175 a week on groceries, squanders more than $40 worth of food each week and $2,275 a year."

Money squandered, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. The bigger picture is not how much money we're wasting, but rather how much food we could be giving to those who don't have it.

Worldwide hunger is nothing new, yet so many people, restaurants and grocery stores throw away food that is edible and more often than not, merely "commercially blemished."

It is surprising to note how few studies have been done on food waste. One of the more recent, conclusive studies on food waste was done in 1997 by the Department of Agriculture. The DOA estimated that in 1995, 96.4 billion pounds out of the 356 billion pounds of food produced that year was not consumed in the United States.

A similar New York Times article (One Country's Table Scraps, Another Country's Meal, by Andrew Martin) referenced a statistic from the Nation's Food Bank Network which said that (in 2008) food donations were down 9 percent, whereas the number of people coming to the food banks for meals had increased by 20 percent.

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According to that same article, the DOA estimated that it would only take a 5 percent recovery rate of food waste to feed four million people a day.

As disturbing as many of these statistics are, they simply aren't enough to destroy the raging apathy that I sense taking over our campus on a regular basis.

Believe me, if I could insert a video here as affective as Sarah McLachlan's animal shelter video or any of those St. Jude Children's Hospital tearjerker infomercials, I would. But I can't. So instead, I'm going to ask you a favor.

You know how it seems like no matter how much crap you buy at ETC, your dining dollars never seem to dwindle? (Yes seniors, I'm talking to you.) Well, what if (and this is a big what if) instead of buying guacamole and that really exotic lavender oatmeal for $20, you bought a bunch of canned goods and took them to a local food shelter?

The idea is radical, I know, but a child dies of hunger ever five seconds. Which seems more radical to you?

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