Food Waste: The Average American Throws Out Every Other Piece of Food

It’s time to think about what you’re not eating. 

Your mother wasn’t kidding when she told you to finish your meal. It’s not that if you don’t finish your broccoli you won’t get dessert. If you don’t finish your broccoli you’re contributing to the huge problem of food waste.

In a culture where food is readily accesible to many of us, we’re busy throwing it away. In fact, according to a new report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40% of our food supply goes to waste every year, accounting for $165 billion. That is at the same time as hunger and poverty are on the rise, with one in seven American households dealing with food insecurity, as well as significant issues of drought and skyrocketing food prices.

Although grocery stores and other food sellers lose as much as $15 billion annually in unsold fruits and vegetables, the majority of food waste occurs in restaurants and household kitchens. Why? One of the factors is size; we’re serving ourselves more than we can eat. Today, portion sizes are two to eight times larger than the government’s standard serving sizes. We’re throwing out about 20 pounds of food per person every single month.

A few facts about food waste:

  • The average American family of four ends up throwing away an equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food.
  • Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste in U.S. landfills.
  • Just a 15 percent reduction in losses in the U.S. food supply would save enough food to feed 25 million Americans annually.
  • There has been a 50 percent jump in U.S. food waste since the 1970s.

How do we fix the problem?

We need a change in infrastructure. The NRDC recommends policy changes to deal with the issue of food waste, including action from federal and state governments to set targets for reducing food waste as well as implementing programs that help address the problem.

But personal responsibility is just as important. Know what you’re buying, plan your meals ahead and buy what you need, not what you think you need.

In other words, start eating consciously. And finish your broccoli.

Image: jbloom

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.