40% Of U.S. Food Supply Lost, What Should We Do?


According to a 2012 report by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 40% of all food in the United States goes uneaten.

Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10% of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50% of U.S.
land, and swallows 80% of all freshwater consumed in the United States. This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that the uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste where it accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions. Reducing food losses by just 15% would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year.

Fun Facts:

  • The average American throws away between $28-$43 dollars in food per month.
  • Roughly 7% of the produce that’s grown in the United States simply gets stranded on fields each year.
  • Individual households throw away nearly 25% of the foods they buy.
  • USDA estimates that supermarkets toss out $15 billion worth of unsold fruits and vegetables alone each year.
  • 40% of landfill content comes from food waste.
  • McDonald’s requires fries to be thrown out after seven minutes. About one-tenth of fast food gets junked this way.
  • In restaurants, a good chunk of food is lost in the kitchen. And, on average, diners leave about 17% of their food uneaten.

The report also notes that portion sizes are a big reason for this, as portions have ballooned in the past 30 years. Restaurants also try to keep more food than they need on hand to make sure that everything on the menu is available. What’s more, chain restaurants have inflexible rules that require perfectly good food to be tossed.

So what are we doing about this? In addition to spearheading a comprehensive government study, the NRDC advises that businesses, like grocers and restaurants, should seize opportunities to streamline their own operations, reduce food losses and save money; and consumers can waste less food by shopping wisely, knowing when food goes bad, cooking only the amount of food they need, and eating their leftovers.

A few local food industry leaders have responded:

Christina Rivera, co-owner of Gobi Mongolian BBQ House in Los Angeles, has begun charging extra for food left on plate. While this is a common practice in many buffet restaurants in the southern states, the practice is new to Los Angeles and is being met with mixed reviews.

“Some people are really receptive to it; other people say we’re doing it because we don’t want to spend money buying more food.” said Rivera in a recent interview with the LA Times

NPR did a profile on the former president of Trader Joe’s, Doug Rauch, who is determined to repurpose the perfectly edible produce slightly past its sell-by date that ends up in the trash. (That happens in part because people misinterpret the labels, according to a report  from Harvard and the Natural Resources Defense Council.) To tackle the problem, Rauch is opening a new market early next year in Dorchester, Mass., that will prepare and repackage the food at deeply discounted prices.