This is the first sentence from the first page of American Wasteland, Jonathan Bloom's new book about how our country "throws away nearly half of its food," and it has been ringing in my head for weeks, whenever I'm at the store, poking through the fridge, or cooking dinner. A giant football stadium filled with squandered food (every. single. day!) is a startling image but, more importantly, why does it matter and and what can we do about it? To start, we can learn about how and why all this food goes uneaten – it isn't pretty, but it's quite fascinating. Bloom, a journalist and founder of the website WastedFood.com, does a fantastic job of taking readers through the U.S. food system, traveling from farm to fork and everywhere in-between. He investigates every aspect of the food chain, including farms, trucking operations, supermarkets, restaurants, homes, and food recovery groups, to discover the institutional, cultural, and psychological reasons for food waste.
Most of this wasted food is perfectly edible. But according to Bloom, we have come to take food for granted as a result of factors like our industrialized food system, a disconnect from farms and cooking, and the perception that food is cheap and abundant. Food that doesn't fit consumers' expectations gets tossed. The modern lack of kitchen skills also comes into play, as many of us don't know what to do with a container of leftovers or how to preserve extra fruits and vegetables. Frugality is no longer a virtue.
Why does any of this matter? For one, many Americans are hungry, and Bloom discusses some ways in which food can be recovered and redistributed to these citizens. Aside from moral and ethical reasons, he also describes the grave environmental consequences of wasting food. Contrary to popular perception, throwing away organic matter is not necessarily benign. Trapped in landfills, it can emit harmful methane and pollute the groundwater. And then there are all the resources that went into growing, processing, and transporting that food in the first place…
This is a sobering topic, but it's an important one, and I urge anyone who's interested in changing our food system, or just changing everyday personal habits, to read Bloom's book. His prose is enjoyable to read and you don't feel like you are being preached to or dragged through doom-and-gloom. While he acknowledges that we'll never completely end food waste, Bloom does offer some real solutions for the national and individual levels. Reading this book, I was shocked, then saddened, and now energized, and I am grateful to Bloom for sharing this topic in such a thorough and engaging way.
• Read it: American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It), $17.16 at Amazon
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(Image: Da Capo Press)