Waste Not Want Not

There’s an ad that’s been running on TV recently claiming 40% of all food in the United States is wasted. That’s significant. Then I was reading a food blog the other day, and the author quotes that number on her blog, as though it’s a fact. I decided to investigate a little.
As the saying goes: There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.
According to the Save The Food campaign, a household of four ‘wastes’ half that number (20%) or a whopping 20 lbs of food a month. [EDIT: This is wrong. See my comment below.] That sounds like a lot. But if we break it down, it’s not all that much. Each of those members is throwing away 5 lbs (or 80 ounces) of food a month. Doing quick, third-grade level math, each person is supposedly ‘wasting’ 2.6 ounces of food a day.

I drop more than three ounces of food on my lap while eating some days.

Of course, we’re assuming these numbers are not inflated. And if you think do-gooders don’t exaggerate to help their cause du jour, I’ve got a bridge I want to sell you. And I also have some great ocean front property in Arizona I need to unload.

The amount of wasted food is most definitely less, and likely much less than the 40% number cited. And keep in mind, there’s no way for anyone to know the real numbers, these are all guesses based on assumptions. It amazes me that people believe any number thrown out to them without question. Sorry, I’m not buying the waste they’re selling.
I hate wasting food, but not for philosophical or moral reasons. I hate wasting food because I’m cheap. I can’t stand watching my hard earned dollars thrown into the back of the garbage truck that passes my house every Friday. It’s just common sense to purchase and store food wisely to prevent it from ending up in a landfill.
Despite one’s best effort, it’s inevitable that in a prosperous society there will be food waste. It goes with the territory. And it’s happy territory; I weep for those who live in poverty and struggle to fill their bellies on a daily basis. I’m sure they pray to God one day they will have enough food that some goes to waste. I’m thankful my daughter and wife don’t go hungry. We’re blessed. And if along with that blessing comes some waste, it’s a moral conundrum I can live with.
Back to the campaign.
“Wasting food wastes everything.”
Everything? Use hyperbole much? We’re not just wasting food or wasting our money; we’re wasting everything. This is an absurd statement. And frankly, I feel insulted they think I’m so dumb as to buy into this blatant attempt to shame me.
The everything we’re wasting includes: “Water. Fuel. Labor. Money. Love.”
Are we wasting love? What the hell does that mean? I say that in all seriousness. I have no idea what that means. How is throwing out a few ounces of spoiled milk “wasting love”? It’s more over-the-top language to convince us their cause is worthy of our time and attention and to embarrass us into action.
I could touch on the political aspirations of this campaign, but I won’t do that only because I’ve decided to keep my food blog political free. But it’s not an exaggeration to make a claim these guys have a political agenda couched with their consumer campaign.
The 40% number is at a minimum exaggerated, and likely completely fabricated. The obvious use of over-the-top, hyperbolic language and a thinly veiled political agenda is all the evidence you need to come to the conclusion these people and their dubious 40% number should be ignored.

2 thoughts on “Waste Not Want Not

  1. The “Save the Food” website is very slick and contains no sourcing citations or footnotes, which is irritating. They do however link to NRDC which ultimately will lead you to this very well researched article: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-food-IP.pdf

    The 20 pounds food waste per month is PER PERSON, not for the entire household. the source is J. Buzby, and J. Hyman. “Total and per capita value of food loss in the United States”, Food Policy, 37(2012):561-570.

    Lots more stats and support in this doc. The 40% you cite is the total loss through processing, retail, all up and down the food chain.


  2. Regarding the 20 lbs of food per month, per person. Apparently, I read it wrong. I apologize for my mistake. But that only strengthens my argument. There is no way my family of three throws away 15 lbs of food a week (60/month) or more than two pounds a day. Not possible. We put about one kitchen garbage bag a week on the curb, and that bag maybe weighs 15 lbs, and there's far more than food waste in that bag. I doubt we're atypical.

    I found the research paper from Buzby, and J. Hyman you refer to, it's here: http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/234-2425.pdf

    If you search that document for the word 'estimate,' it returns 93 hits. An estimate is not a fact, it's a guess, and that's the whole point of my piece.

    Lastly, I found an article which compares four different food waste estimations from four different sources. It came as no surprise to me that Save the Food uses (by far) the highest estimates of the four. http://www.nycfoodpolicy.org/rabbit-hole-measuring-food-waste-confusing/


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