131. How To Ru(i)n An Economy: The Untapped Potential of Defeating Food Waste

07 important lessons from this video:

00:00:12 Americans love food to the point where celebrating America often goes hand-in-hand with celebrating its food:

  • All you can eat pancakes, chicken wings, riblets… 
  • Endless shrimp…
  • What’s more American than a cheeseburger…?

00:01:39 But there subsequently is a surprising amount of food that goes uneaten. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) finds that:

“Up to 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States never gets eaten… 

…Americans throw away $165 billion worth of food every year.” 

Source: http://www.nrdc.org/food/files/wasted-food-ip.pdf

Further, this food wastage has increased by about 50% since 1974.

00:03:21 This waste is unacceptable for many reasons, notably:

  • The 49.1 million people living in food-insecure households who, at some point in the year, struggle to put enough food on the table.” 

    (According to a 2013 report by the USDA – 1st sentence page 10)

  • The total amount of labor and natural resources required to make the 40% of food which ends in the trash.
  • When all of that (food) waste is aggregated and decomposes without air in a landfill creates methane – a greenhouse gas which is +20 times as potent as CO² at trapping heat.” 

    (Source: “Just Eat It” (2015))

  • Thrown away directly from our household refrigerator, we’re wasting between 15-25% of the food we purchase. (Source: interview with Dana Gunders, Staff Scientist for NRDC, interviewed for 

    “Just Eat It” (2015))

00:06:35 Stores often routinely overstock so that their customers can see and have immediate access to tons of food because humans are not only impulse shoppers, they also have a tendancy to avoid taking the last product on the shelf for fear there may be something wrong with it.

00:07:51 During the harvesting season, much of the fruits are thrown away even before they’ve made their way to the sales floor because the fruit grown with some deformity makes it aesthetically unattractive, and therefore, unsellable. Once a fruit has been deemed unsellable, it is more cost effective  for the farmer to simply throw the fruit on the ground to rot than to pay

the overhead production, manual labor, storage, logistics and transportation costs

necessary to bring the fruit to the market only to be rejected.

00:09:34 According to the NRDC report The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America:

91% of consumers occasionally throw away food from their refrigerator because it has passed its arbitrary ‘use by,’ ‘sell by,’ and ‘expiration date.’

00:10:27 According to Emily Broad Leib, Director of Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, the expiration date is simply a manufacturer’s ‘best guess’ of when the product in question is at it’s best, most freshest quality.

As a manufacturer, wouldn’t it be in your best interest to make the expiration dates as tight as possible in order to sell more food as quickly as possible?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In her mini-documentary The Story of Stuff: How Our Modern Markets Economy is Destroying our Planet, Annie Leonard points out that even with non-food items, most consumer goods fall under two life cycles:

  • Planned obsolescence involves creating products specifically designed for the dump; created with the intention of being useless as quickly as possible whilst leaving the consumer with the belief that they are getting a good deal. Products ranging from plastic bags to take-away coffee cups, DVDs, cameras, computers and smartphones…
  • Perceived obsolescence involves convincing consumers to discard products which are still perfectly usable. Products ranging from the newest fashion trend to the latest iphone model…

Advertising, branding, and media communications play a huge role in consumer spending and perceived obsolescence. What’s the point of an advertising except to make us unhappy with what we currently have? Media communications also aid in hiding the extraction, production, and distrution parts of the markets economy.]

00:11:10 In reality (as of July 19, 2015), with the exception of baby formula, the federal government as well as 9 states don’t require food to carry expiration dates.

Nevertheless, grocery stores continue to throw away ‘ugly’ and expired food because consumers will not buy it.

00:11:35 Common misconceptions justifying the throwing away of food rather than donating it to the above mentioned food-insecure households is because:

  • It’s a food health and safety issue, and 
  • There’s a threat of legal action should a person fall ill from eating the expired food.

In reality, food donors are covered by the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 which says you cannot be sued for making food donations in good faith.

00:13:00 But the largest preventer of food being purchased or donated and consumed is because, once again, the overhead production, manual labor, storage, logistics and transportation costs of getting the ‘imperfect’ food into food-insecure households costs money, and to date the government provides no economic incentive, tax breaks or assistance for smaller businesses to do so.

To date, it’s cheaper and easier to throw away perfectly good food than it is to donate it.

00:14:23 In February, 2015, the H.R. 644 Fighting Hunger Incentive Act of 2015 was proposed to make such a tax break a permanent incentive for would-be food donors. However by the time the bill passed it had been renamed H.R. 644 America Gives More Act, and upon reaching the Senate, the act was gutted of all it’s original intentions, renamed it H.R. 644 – Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015  and turned it into an act about border control and Israeli-US relations.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: An excellent advertising campaign was launched to rebrand ugly fruit:

Lastly, in France as of Thursday, May 21, 2015, “French MPs on Thursday voted unanimously in favour of a new law that will outlaw the destruction of unsold food products, forcing large supermarkets instead to donate them to charities or for use on farms.”]

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