Love Food, Not Waste

First of a two-part series

Waste not, want not is an aphorism some of us grew up with, especially if you or your parents were of the Depression era. The subject of food waste makes me think of this phrase and my Italian-American mom. She always cooked, mostly with plant-based dishes, because that was what my parents could afford. With limited financial resources, she was aware of all her food purchases and the mere mention of food waste was not part of any conversation—because it didn’t happen! 

There is an interesting historical take on food waste. It goes back to lessons from World War I, when the American government set food conservation goals.[1] This idea can be applied to 2020 and is something we might be wise to heed today.

Why care about food waste now? What could be a bigger crisis than COVID-19?

Food waste matters and for so many reasons:

  • The United States is the global leader in food waste.
  • Each year, the United States alone wastes more than 132 billion pounds of food.
  • Nearly 40 percent of the U.S. food supply ends up as food waste.
  • All this wasted food accounts for 23 percent of methane emissions (greenhouse gas).
  • In the United States, each person wastes 219 lbs. of food per year.
  • The amount of produce thrown away annually is $1,600 for a family of 4.
  • 37 million people across America, including 11 million children, suffer from food insecurity.
  • If we could rescue just 15% of the food we waste, we’d save enough to feed 25 million Americans each year.

Why do we waste so much food?

The cause of food waste is a mix of socioeconomics, our ingrained beliefs, misunderstandings, and our human habits and behaviors. Consider this:

  1. Food spoilage is cited as one of the primary reasons we throw food out.
  2. Labels sell by, use by, expires on, best before, and best by bewilder us and create concerns about foodborne illness, causing us to toss food.
  3. Believe it or not, food in the United States is plentiful and less costly compared to other global cultures; this contributes to our laissez faire attitude about food.
  4. Americans are impulsive with food purchases, sometimes buying more than we need or can eat.
  5. We live in a take-out society and underutilize leftovers, often tossing out food scraps that could be consumed or composted.
  6. Composting isn’t part of our routine, so we use our landfills to dump our excess food.

The good news

Some states are taking action to curb food waste and implement food-recovery measures. Legislators in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont have passed laws restricting the amount of food waste going to landfills. On a national level, the USDA and EPA set a goal in 2015 to reduce food waste by half by 2030.

While this is great – there is so much more we can do. We can act individually and collectively to reduce food waste as it has environmental and human repercussions. Join me next week and we’ll talk about what more we can do, and how easy it is to do it!

[1] Check out ‘victory gardens’ online to learn more.

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Ken Davis

Ken Davis is the Co-op's senior copywriter. Email him at