Awareness of food waste can help us appreciate holiday meals
Americans celebrate the winter holidays in many ways, which typically include an abundance of food, drinks, desserts – and waste. Food waste is receiving increasing attention from managers, activists, policymakers, and scholars, who call it a global social problem. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, wealthy nations waste nearly as much food every year as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.
Efforts to reduce food waste tend to focus on consumption practices, with less attention on the production and distribution side. However, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a large proportion of food loss and waste in the United States occurs at the farm-to-retail level, with about 133 billion pounds of food available at retailers going uneaten.
In a 2018 study, my colleague Arnold Vedlitz and I surveyed nearly 1,400 Americans about their views on food waste. We wanted to know what the public understood about the role that intermediary organizations such as grocery stores, cafeterias, and restaurants play in this problem. We also wanted to see whether concern about food waste reflected awareness of the water-energy-food nexus – the interconnections between food production, energy, and water.
Office of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree
Organizational food waste
Organizations lose or waste food for many reasons. Grocery stores seek to keep shelves full and offer visually appealing produce, which can lead to over-ordering and throwing out items with cosmetic flaws. The Agriculture Department estimates that between 11 and 12 percent of fresh foods and meats are discarded or lost from U.S. retail outlets and supermarkets.
Restaurants and cafeterias also contribute significantly through inventory losses, food preparation waste, food scraps not suitable for serving, foods prepared but not served, and foods consumers purchase but do not finish.
We used a nationally representative survey to see whether individuals were concerned about organizational food waste and would support policies intended to reduce it. In response to the question “How concerned are you about the amount of food wasted by grocery stores, restaurants and cafeterias?” approximately 75 percent of respondents said they were were concerned, very concerned or extremely concerned.
Our results also showed that women, older people, members of lower-income households and those who leaned politically liberal all expressed higher levels of concern about food wasted by organizations.