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Why Does the US Waste so Much Food?

A question came in asking why some countries waste so much more food than other countries. The answer isn’t complex and it explains the food wastage in the US.

Put simply, food is at a higher premium in poorer countries than it is in wealthier ones. For example, the average person in El Salvador will eat things that the average American wouldn’t even consider eating. But then, the average diet in El Salvador consists of a half-cup of cooked rice, twice per day (three times per day for people who are more fortunate.) The rice is usually cooked without seasonings and without meat or vegetables added.

The poorest people in the US are wealthier than the average citizen of El Salvador. Americans also have access to a great deal of food that is high-quality. Since starvation isn’t a continual threat in the US like it is in El Salvador, people here are generally less thankful for the food we have and the food wastage is substantially higher.

According to the USDA, about 133 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States yearly. Since the population of the US is only about 375 million, this means that around 355 pounds of food are wasted in the US by every man, woman, and child, on average.

As great as that number is, the US is only 6th of the top 10 countries when it comes to food waste. In that list of top 10 wasteful countries, Norway is 10th, followed by Canada, Denmark, and Australia. As mentioned the US is 6th. In 5th place is Finland. Singapore is 4th, Malaysia is 3rd, Germany is 2nd, and the country with the largest amount of food waste in the world is the UK. About 40% of the food that is available in the UK is imported, and yet the average yearly food waste in the Uk is 6.7 million tons. That is 13,400,000,000 pounds of food wasted per year.

It should be noted that all of the countries on this list are making efforts to curb food waste.

Except for Malaysia and Singapore, all of the rest would be considered wealthier nations where starvation isn’t an everyday concern. That seems to be the common denominator. 

  • Did you know that people waste this much food yearly?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I didn’t know the numbers, but I try hard not to waste food
    • I’ve seen people throwing away perfectly good food

What do you think?

11 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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    • A great deal does go through food banks and similar. That is where the government has a role because they often dictate that certain foods can’t be sold or given away under conditions where the food is still perfectly good to eat.

    • The sad part is that there *are* solutions. Oh, there will always be some food wastage. That is unavoidable anytime something perishable is sold. However, if people become more involved and work on the issue together, the amount of food wastage drops enormously. This is one thing the Government can’t fix, but people can.

  1. You are right – it is an absolute scandal, and one that must be addressed. In the UK, we have the wastage you describe, yet have volunteer-run food banks to give food to people who would go hungry without them.

    One problem is the fetish of “use by” and “best before” dates. Supermarkets cannot sell food that has passed its date, and most them insist on throwing away food that has not been sold – although some are now starting to donate this food to food banks.

    Many people will not eat food they have bought that has passed its “use by” date, although it is usually perfectly OK.

    My own family throws away hardly any food – very little goes to waste, maybe the occasional banana that has gone too far but that is about it. When this happens, fresh food usually goes on our compost heap. If everyone followed our example the national food wastage would be much less than it is.

    • Yes, the UK has instituted a few programs to address the issue and it is gradually working. It is something that all countries should do

      I also am not fond of expiration dates, particularly when the food is still good. I mean, expiration dates on jars of honey? That is 15 shades of crazy. Honey doesn’t go bad. Yet they stamp those dates on virtually anything that is eaten.

      Many people will also not buy fruits or vegetables if they are blemished in any way, though the appearance has nothing at all to do with how good they are. Some stores have gotten better and now offer this ‘ugly produce’ at substantially reduced prices. That lessens wastage and the consumers get a great deal. After all, stuff that comes right out of the garden is rarely perfect in appearance.

      Some wastage is unavoidable. I imagine that the UK has similar laws to what the US has in regard to what must occur if the refrigeration units go down. Here, the food cannot be sold and since it often can’t be refrozen, it is usually thrown away. In some places, though, this is now being combatted by bringing in an inspector and transferring some of that food to senior centers and homeless shelter, to be immediately used in their soup kitchens.

      Your method is a good one and more people should emulate it. Ultimately, the issue will only become resolved if average people take steps to solve it. End-consumers have a great deal of power to greatly reduce food wastage.

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