By Shelby Farthing
In the small rural farming community where I was raised, there was an area of town that I always hated driving by. I noticed at a small age that this area of town smelled terrible, and by terrible, I mean it smelled like trash. I later learned that this is because it literally was filled with trash. It was a dump. I asked my preschool teachers why people put trash into giant heaps in the middle of cornfields. My teachers responded with the fact that America simply had too much trash.
This conversation has been in the back of my mind every time I pass by a landfill. I notice dented refrigerators, old television sets, or long-forgotten love seats. It wasn’t until recently, however, that I was made aware that the bulk of waste thrown into landfills isn’t furniture or old tires, but food — and perfectly edible food. It is shocking to think about the amount of food that goes to waste in America.
A few years ago, I was wandering past a Panera Bread with some friends, and an elderly man asked us if we could buy him something from Subway. I reached into my pocket to see if I had any money when I noticed a Panera bread worker throw a huge, clear garbage bag of bagels into the trash. I ran inside and asked if I could take the bagels, and the worker told me they were perfectly good. I was so shocked by this that I asked the worker why they would throw them out in the first place. The worker responded that their marketing strategy was selling “fresh baked goods” and that anything that was not made in the store that day was not up to their standards of “fresh.” I grabbed the bag of bagels from the garbage and handed them to the elderly man.
This situation has made me question: why would we throw away perfectly good food?
A study from the not-for-profit organization Feeding America has found that 218 billion dollars’ worth of edible food is thrown away every year. Another staggering statistic indicates that 21% of available freshwater is used to produce food that is later discarded. Ten percent of food that is thrown away is waste from grocery stores. This is usually because grocery stores believe that customers are more likely to purchase food from overstocked displays. Thus, perfectly edible food is thrown away to make room for the next shipment of produce. Another reason why food goes to waste in America is the misinformation of sell-by or expiration dates. Food production companies usually use expiration dates as an estimation of when they believe the food will go bad. In order to avoid lawsuits, food production companies usually guess that the food will go bad before it actually is even close to expiring. Many American families toss out food that is perfectly fine because they are misinformed.
The best way that activists can go against the grain in trying to properly allocate food resources is through nonprofits such as Boulder Food Rescue. Boulder Food Rescue’s mission statement is as follows: “Boulder Food Rescue works to create a more just and less wasteful food system. We do this through the sustainable redistribution of healthy food to low-income communities while educating each other about food justice.” They began their mission after conducting research that proved that there is enough food thrown away in their county to feed every homeless or low-income individual that lives within their county borders. Many similar nonprofit organizations exist in suburban or urban areas within the US, although they are lacking in rural areas. Although “food justice” is probably not a term that most of us have heard before, it is something that every middle- or upper-class American should be considering.