Americans throw away a lot of food

The following comes from an August 21 story in the Los Angeles Times.

Americans are throwing out nearly every other bite of food, wasting up to 40% of the country’s supply each year – a mass of uneaten provisions worth $165 billion, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

An average family of four squanders $2,275 in food each year, or 20 pounds per person per month, according to the nonprofit and nonpartisan environmental advocacy group.

Food waste is the largest single portion of solid waste cramming American landfills.

Since the 1970s, the amount of uneaten fare that is dumped has jumped 50%. The average American trashes 10 times as much food as a consumer in Southeast Asia, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Such profligacy is especially unwarranted in a time of record drought, high food prices expected to get higher and families unable to afford food, according to the council. Efforts are already in place in Europe to cut back on food waste.

But American consumers are used to seeing pyramids of fresh produce in their local markets and grocery stores, which results in $15 billion annually in unsold fruits and vegetables, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. In restaurants and home kitchens, massive portions often end up partly in the trash.

To read entire story, click here.


  1. West coast farmers are said to be unable to hire enough harvest workers and so their crops often rot in the fields. Is this a fact or is it political hype? The waste either at home or on the farm demonstrates that there is plenty of food to feed the world well … but cannot be delivered to all the needy due to several factors. One of the factors is politics. Another factor is politics. Additional factors include such things as politics, more politics, and well that is the reason people starve and are ill fed, politics. Politics could certainly be worse, but it could be better. Could politicians feed all the people well? No. Why? Because Jesus tells us “the poor you shall always have among you”.

    • Mr. JLS – I’m a caterer and I think that at least part of the problem is logistics. They say our central valley here in CA could feed the world. However the food, and all food is perishable, needs to be gotten to those who need it before it spoils. I try to give little bit more to the CRS collection every year because they are working on this problem.

      • Logistics has several problems. One of these is civil wars, where the warlords confiscate the food supplies.

        • I agree. My parents made me watch an old singer named Tom Lehr when I was little. I remember the line “..UN and OAS they have their place I guess but first,SEND THE MARINES.” Maybe we should have the Swiss Guard protect CRS activities.

      • CRS recently gave money to the organization CARE which funds abortion and sterilizations in developing nations. Not to mention, several of the board members of CRS sit on the board of CARE.

        I would think that if there were less people born to eat all of the food produced, then you will have more rotten food not less. In my mind, giving to CRS is like giving to the devil and asking him to solve the food distribution problem.

        • Anne T: – we had the same problem. Then we learned about a shelter for previously homeless kids from the local synagoge which will take reception leftovers from places like churches. I guess they know that the food was prepared by caterers (mostly me I hope) that it will be fresh etc. It’s too bad people are so paranoid these days and that some folks don’t know enough about food safety to figure out which foods SHOULD be thrown out!

    • Politics, JLS, and lawsuits. Many fast food places, and even some schools, gave away the leftover food at the end of the day or week to employees, but they had to stop it because of lawsuits. Someone would take it home keep it too long then eat it or give it to someone else who would keep it too long quite often then eat it, then sue the fast food place or school for what they should have known not to do in the first place. One woman found a worm in a candybar that one orgaization had given her free. Instead of telling them to be more careful and accepting something else in its place, she sued. I can see suing if it is an ongoing thing, but not for one candybar.

      • Tracy – we had the same problem. Then we learned about a shelter for previously homeless kids from the local synagoge which will take reception leftovers from places like churches. I guess they know that the food was prepared by caterers (mostly me I hope) that it will be fresh etc. It’s too bad people are so paranoid these days and that some folks don’t know enough about food safety to figure out which foods SHOULD be thrown out!

        • Abeca Christian says

          I think that many places charge high prices on fruits and vegetables so less people buy them, they get ripe quickly and then are thrown away, why not just charge a reasonable low price and allow more to buy so there would be less waste.

  2. Ray Marshall says

    I’m somewhat suspicious of that statistic. The problem is not with the individual. With so many meals eaten at restaurants and so many meals at home being being “pre-cooked” from the grocery or “take-out”, I wonder if a large portion of that waste comes from the food processing industry and restaurant preparation. In particular, a huge amount of waste must come from buffet restaurants, cafeterias and institutional food service like hospitals, nursing homes, and school and company food service. Speaking from personal experience, I recall that the Army threw out a huge amount of food at each meal when I served.

    • Ray, I agree with you. Families, who prepare meals at home, usually buy the amount of food they will consume and typically refrigerate leftovers. Restaurants, however, must purchase and prepare more food than is necessary, because, no one wants to go to a restaurant and be told they are out of everything because it was a busier than normal day. Also, while you can take leftovers home from a restaurant, this is not always feasible due to spoilage, so more wast occurs there.

  3. JLS you took the words right out of my mouth, especially the last sentence. So now I will have to think of some other stuff. When I was a kid, every Thursday was “leftover night.” It was also a night to remember about others who may have not been able to eat as well as we were eating. That Thursday night also gave us an appreciation for our food, sometimes because that night the food wasn’t that great. Today, “entitlement to my food” is the motto. We looove our food, “gluttony” for many. I am a chocolate addict, truly. The Good Lord has to vie with “my” love of chocolate, it often gets me angry, because it is a struggle for me in my head. My son, who is a religious, and I, had an argument about a year ago on this very subject…wasting food. It was, a differing of insight on this matter. He, a Franciscan, said there was an abundance of food for everyone, I said we waste, he said what is waste when there is abundance, I said there won’t be abundance if we waste….well to make a long story short, I came around more to his way of thinking, but he came around to mine, after I spoke of ALL the government regulations. Man does not live by bread alone….that is what we have really forgotten!

    • If there is abundance, the waste is the result of wasted emphasis on the food production. The problem is the logistics, that is to say, getting the food to peoples who have scarcity of food. Whereas in the one nation of USA fourthousand unborn babies die daily from abortion, the same number of people die daily from starvation globally. They die both because they are marginalized politically to barren areas and because govts use food to manipulate their peoples or their neighboring govts’ peoples. They use starvation as a weapon and political coersion means.

  4. Maryanne Leonard says

    The problem is the food delivery system. By the time most food gets to consumers, it is no longer fresh from the garden but has usually been shipped a very long distance and is halfway to paradise upon arrival. Big companies like Costco sell big quantities of fruit and vegetables that most people cannot finish before something spoils. Most American homes don’t need such massive supplies. Few Americans cook from scratch anymore, and few shop daily for fresh foods, having refrigerators; most food is processed and unhealthy. Throwing away the food that they do is probably the first smart step consumers take. Composting and growing their own food is the best next step to slow down this ridiculous waste.

    • The throw away food can also be put to use by feeding animals … chickens and pigs.

      • JLS, they no longer feed pigs garbage, including left over food, because of trichinosis.Pigs who are fed garbage can give people trichinosis if they do not cook the pork completely. One can make a great compost heap for gardening, though. Add coffee grounds and you have a great one.

    • Another factor would be the AgroChem industry. Cut back on the use of agricultural chemicals and less food would be grown, but less intestinal reactions to the chemicals might result. Less wasted food also.

    • Nuther view: I prefer to buy frozen veges and fruit because it is picked ripe instead of green, and both tastes a lot better and is not treated with “stay fresh” chemicals. Also, having been in the ground growing longer, it picks up more nutrients, and is thus more nutritional. Best is to grow your own veges … if you’ve never done it, then you will not understand. Homegrown veges blow away store bought both in nutrition and flavor … so long as your soil is packed with what the plants can use.

      • Wow, Maryanne’s post has me goin’ here: Let me venture this view also: Ever seen studies of longevity comparing urban to rural? My guess is that rural Americans have longer lifespans because they eat better food and smoke fewer cigarettes, and have a far more rounded physical activity dimension.

        • No, according to a recent analysis of health data according to US counties, residents of rural areas have more health problems-especially obesity and its related diseases-high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack and stroke. Their lifestyles are more sedentary and cigarette smoking is higher. The also have very limited health sources compared to urban areas. Suburban residents have the best health. Urban areas residents have more STDs and more alcohol dependency.

  5. Informed and Free says

    Changes to Law Allow Schools to Donate Excess Cafeteria Food to Local Food Banks

    Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) has written a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter in support of the recent passage of the minibus and language regarding excess cafeteria food donations. The recently-enacted appropriations minibus included language amending the school lunch program to allow schools to donate excess cafeteria food to local food pantries. Rep. Wolf and Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) have been supportive of this effort for many years and are hopeful that more food will be donated to local food banks from area school cafeterias. In his letter, Rep. Wolf also reinforces the fact that the donations are covered by the Good Samaritan Act and are protected from liability from liability.

  6. DaJuan Hayes says

    You can call it “waste” if you want to. I call it American Exceptionalism.

    • I’m sure Dives thought he was exceptional too as he ignored Lazarus at his door. Tell that to Christ on judgement day. He’ll probably tell you the same thing he said to Dives.

      I also would like to know where in Catholic teaching or Divine revelation you are finding the “doctrine” of American Exceptionalism??

      • Katherine, the “doctrine of American Exceptionalism” refers to the idea of Manifest Destiny. It is not a Catholic concept, but came out of the power house of Protestantism that has been ruling America for centuries. Manifest Destiny aka American Exceptionalism justifies whatever US govt has done to expand into empire. There are many criticisms of this idea. The criticisms often are marshaled by socialists but also by peoples who have been oppressed or slaughtered under the flag of Manifest Destiny aka American Exceptionalism. The idea may well have sprung from some ancient Catholic Doctrine about going into all the world and preaching and teaching the Gospel. The Protestants confused this Great Commission with the land itself … a rendering of spirituality with materialism, ie a religion of materialism guided by Protestant spirituality. Call it also “bastardized Catholicism”. And of course, bastardize Catholicism enough and it becomes unrecognizable. The angst against this WASP nation is serious and has some extremely valid points. And not only are socialists striving to overcome it but so is Islam.

    • America is not the only nation or empire that uses food as a political tool. All nations and all empires do this. So, DaJuan Hayes, what is your solution to the problem of a billion starving people around the globe? When you replace all the evil rulers, who do you propose take their places? Are you up to the task? How would you feed all people without changing human nature?

  7. The biggest food wasters are my kids – but it’s only in an effort to get them to eat more than 4 things. I keep presenting them with things trying to get them to try it. (One has autism and one had some weird food adversion thing as a baby and still very cautious.) I would eat what they don’t eat but once they’ve put their hands all over it, felt it, smelled it, licked it, I just put it right in the garbage. Other than that, I run a pretty lean kitchen. I think there are maybe too may laws about who you can give your food to. I think restaurants and grocery stores should be able to give the food they aren’t going to sell to anyone who wants it, but the law says otherwise.

  8. Cole Thornton says

    I have observed families in restaurants for years. Instead of directing the child in what is allowed to have on the menu mommy will say “what do you want”? Then an adult sized portion is ordered, the kid eats the french fries or the potato chips, and the rest is thrown out with NO parent saying a thing about all that will be wasted. Talk to a waitstaff person and they will verify exactly how much is thrown out. From what I have heard the story is pretty much the same in school cafeterias. But many adults also leave a good amount on their plates.

  9. Abeca Christian says

    They also throw away their salvation…..

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