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America’s Food Waste Problem in 5 Shocking Stats

May 26, 2016

“Waste not, want not.” We’ve all heard that cliché, and many of us were reminded, as kids, to eat everything on our plates, because other children elsewhere didn’t have enough food. But what if you knew that as a country, today, we were not only scraping perfectly edible food off our collective plate into the garbage can, but tossing a good portion of the meal’s ingredients in the landfill before they ever reach the kitchen?

On Wednesday, experts in food, nutrition, hunger, law, and policy testified before the House Agriculture Committee in Washington DC to call for Congress to act on the issue of food waste. These included a number of celebrity chefs, including Tom Colicchio, head judge on the show “Top Chef.” The chefs and advocates will also meet with lawmakers to encourage the passage of two bills introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine): the Food Recovery Act, introduced late last year, which “takes comprehensive steps to reduce food waste on the farm, in stores, institutions, and at home”; and the Food Date Labeling Act, introduced earlier this month to standardize sell-by and use-by dates on foods.

“What we hope is to raise level of consciousness about how much food is being wasted along the chain,” Colicchio told the New York Times.

Here are five numbers discussed at the hearing that describe both the problem of and potential solution for America’s food waste.

40%

The amount of food grown in the United States that’s thrown away before ever reaching a plate—which adds up to 70 billion pounds of food annually. America wastes 50 percent more food per capita than it did in the 1970s, indicating that our food system is not nearly as efficient as it used to be.

1,110

Calories per person wasted in America every day. To put that number in perspective, the average person needs between 2,000 and 2,400 calories per day.

$218 billion

The cost of growing, transporting, processing, and disposing of uneaten food per year, according to the New York Times.

0

The amount of scientific studies backing most sell-by dates. Most labels are based not on research or even with safety in mind—but instead on how long manufacturers estimate the food will taste its best. Nevertheless, great confusion swirls around food dates, and as a result, people throw out food that is “pass its sell-by” despite the fact that there’s nothing actually wrong with it.

15,000

A conservative estimate of the number of jobs that could be created by curbing food waste, resulting in a boost to the economy.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats, TakePart.com, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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