Preserving the Environment

This Video Shows Precisely How Much Food We Waste and Why We Do it

May 1, 2014
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This Video Shows Precisely How Much Food We Waste and Why We Do it
Screengrabs via YouTube
Hint: It's not just because it's spoiled or doesn't taste good.

It goes without saying that Americans throw away a lot of food. In fact, roughly 40 percent of the food in this country is completely wasted.

In an effort to drive home this startling fact, YouTube channel MinuteEarth teamed up with families, farmers and YouTube stars to create this video below that shows precisely how much food is wasted in the United States.

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So why do we waste so much food? It’s not just because we hate to eat leftovers. As the video points out, due to industrialized farming practices, food is sometimes left in fields to die because it costs more to harvest than what it’s actually worth. Other times, food is accidentally damaged, spilled or contaminated. And when food gets sent off for packaging and distribution, sometimes it’s rejected solely because it’s not pretty enough — like when a perfectly edible banana is tossed away because it has a few bruises.

It’s also because food in America is actually really cheap compared to the rest of the world. “Part of the problem is that on average, I spend a smaller fraction of my household budget on [food] than in any other country or any other time in history,” says YouTube star CGP Grey. “My spending is spread out over days or weeks so I don’t notice the cost of wasting [food]. But my lack of noticing adds up.”

MORE: This Sandwich Shop’s Ridiculously Small Amount of Waste Will Shock You

Across the country, millions of people (about 1 in 6) do not have enough money for a meal. Imagine how many people would no longer go hungry if we were smarter about uneaten food. At a particularly poignant moment in the video, a man sitting behind a table full of cereal, milk, fruits and vegetables casually shoves half of the food off. “I throw away almost half of you,” he says, “Enough calories to feed 150 million people.”

Wasted food also uses up an incredible amount of natural resources. In the video’s accompanying issue brief, authors Alexander H. Reich and Jonathan A. Foley from the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota write, “Tremendous resources are used to produce uneaten food in the U.S.: 30% of fertilizer, 31% of cropland, 25% of total freshwater consumption, and 2% of total energy consumption.”

And if that didn’t already leave a bad taste in your mouth, as NationSwell previously mentioned, Americans waste 36 million tons of food annually according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which leads to $165 billion in wasted costs.

We must be smarter about the way we eat, and there are many things we can do from eating leftovers and buying food we will actually eat, to food recovery programs. Maybe then, everyone on the planet will know what it’s like to have enough food.

ALSO: New “Mobsters” Are Feeding the Hungry and Cutting Food Waste

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