What can we do about the enormous amount of wasted food?

40% of the food produced in the USA is never eaten. It is simply wasted. What can we do to stop this? I have heard of supermarkets throwing away lots of perfectly good food, perhaps this could be banned? And also, why is this much waste acceptable?

Solving a big problem like food wastage is not going to be a quick fix or even have a single solution. In general, the Pareto principle states that roughly 80% of the problem will be caused by 20% of the causes, or conversely, 80% of the waste can be eliminated with 20% of the effort. It would therefore probably be a good first step to determine all the ways food is wasted and then tackle the easiest ones first.

But there’s no GQ answer for your question. And as for why it’s acceptable? There are lots of horrible things that the modern western world finds acceptable or chooses to ignore; making people care about serious broad-scale long-term issues like food wastage (or climate change, or the military-industrial complex, or the AI singularity, or any number of major issues facing our civilization) is itself a monumental task (and may not even be possible).

Nothing needs to be done. Food is cheap and third-world starvation is caused by political factors (e.g. warlords preventing efficient and uncorrupted distribution networks from being set up), not because of a lack of food.

I’m sure something could be done, but I don’t think it would be beneficial.

Well, the USDA is telling people to eat expired (canned) food. that is a good first step. Really, i think most food that is thrown out is showing signs of decay-how many people eat brown lettuce and half rotten oranges?

Why does it need to be stopped?

Food is being wasted because it’s cheap enough to waste. That’s how things work in a market economy. The simplest and best solution to minimize food wastage, is to make food more expensive. That will have other consequences - are you willing to live with that, in exchange for less wastage of wilted lettuce?

Why does food wastage bother you? Does it bother you because there are hungry people in America, or in the world? These people are not hungry because food is being wasted. They’re hungry because of some other market or systematic failure, like The Joker and the Thief described. The cost of collecting the “wasted” food and distributing it to these hungry people would be greater than the cost of just giving those hungry people some extra money to buy food themselves.

Does it bother you because food production involves negative externalities, like contributing to climate change, or environmental pollution? In that case, the problem is either that those externalities are not reflected in the price, or that the effect of those externalities is much smaller than you think.

I agree that the amount of food wasted in the market is a problem. But banning it is a non solution.

First point: food waste is a local problem. It won’t go to starving children in Africa.

Second point is, whatever the solution, it will increase prices. Are you willing to pay for that?

Groceries throw away enormous amounts of fresh food. They will make donations to food banks but there are difficulties in the supply chain for fresh food. It’s just part of the process, to make food so readily available and inexpensive a lot of it will go bad before it can be used.

Why do we need to do something about this?

I work in the supermarket industry. Trust me, we don’t throw away “perfectly good food” - our margins are thin enough as is without wasting money. Food that gets thrown out gets thrown out because it’s expired, spoiled, there’s a danger of cross-contamination, the packaging is damaged to the point that the food could be contaminated, or it’s been mishandled and can no longer be guaranteed to be clean and unadulterated -for example, meat being left at room temperature to long, or a customer portioning some dry beans out of a bulk bin, then deciding they don’t want them and leaving the bag on the shelf - you can’t just pour those beans back in the bin because you don’t know what happened to them after they were in the customer’s possession. Trust me, you don’t want those kind of products not being thrown out.

Sometimes there’s food where the packaging is damaged, but not to the point that the food is no longer safe - that we can donate to the food bank, along with seasonal items that are out-of-season, or discontinued products.

How about bottled water? It causes enormous amounts of plastic waste, and isn’t as good as most tapwater. Plus the energy spent transporting water-how can you justify shipping water from Samoa to the USA?

Another point.

Imagine you could magically pass a law that, without imposing any cost, reduced the wastage rate from 40% to 10%.

The entire agricultural, distribution, and preparation industry related to food - farms, dairies, supermarkets, restaurants, etc. - would contract by 30%, since there is basically 30% less work to do. All those people would be out of a job, and at least temporarily unable to afford food themselves.

America is a country wealthy, productive and advanced enough to produce food enormously efficiently, at such low cost that we can afford to waste 40% of it in exchange for convenience, quality, simplicity, etc. That is something to be proud of, not something to agonize over. Third-world countries with failed economies probably don’t waste 40% of their food, because there is not enough food to waste.

Are you arguing that the cost of the bottled water (e.g. $1.00 / bottle) does not reflect the true cost of production and shipping? If so, that is a general market failure that should be fixed (e.g. by a carbon tax, if you’re worried about CO2 emissions, or by improved environmental regulation in general).

But if the true cost of producing and shipping and disposing of the bottle is $0.90, and people are willing to pay $1.00 for whatever reason, what exactly is the problem?

I generally agree, but its worth noting that in the long run we would be better off. Those 30% of farm workers could go get jobs in industry, or become writers or artists, or contribute to society in some other way. Everything else held equal, less waste is better.

On water, I’ve never understood the claim that bottled water isn’t as safe or clean as tap water. This seems to arise from a general distrust of free market systems to supply quality products. Yes, tap water is more regulated than bottled water, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better quality. And if we look at the issue empirically, we can find that tap water actually makes a lot of people sick and in some areas doesn’t taste very good. So bottled water is generally a slightly superior product to tap water.

There seem to be a large contingent of people who simply don’t believe that the free market works, and this belief leads them to infer that whatever is more heavily regulated is better. The problem is they’re wrong.

I’ll bet that everybody reading here noticed that Ralph’s post contained nothing whatsoever about regulation. Nor did he say that bottled water wasn’t as safe or clean as tap water. So this is a world-class straw man statement.

I find it hard to believe that anyone who advocate less waste doesn’t hold up bottled water as the poster child for waste. Is is, even as a safe, clean, lightly-regulated product. The free market has many virtues, but its results can be attacked without implying an attack on the free market system. I’d argue that anyone who defends anything by simply mouthing the words “free markets” is wrong by default.

Where does this 40% figure come from? Are we talking about actual edible food, or just food purchases?

For example, when I buy fresh sweet corn, I eat only the corn kernels, and discard the husk, silk, and cob. Does the non-kernel portion of the ear count as “waste”?

Most produce, grain, and meat products lose a lot of their harvested bulk weight on the way to the plate; I wouldn’t classify that as “food thrown away”.

Food is very cheap. Especially in the U.S. Increasing the price of food would have benefits (reduced waste, reduced obesity rates), but people would be up in arms if the price were artificially increased. So we live with it.

He said bottled water “isn’t as good as most tapwater”. Water is a pretty basic product, and there aren’t very many attributes on which it’s quality can be assessed. Two important quality attributes are health and taste (given that bottled water is universally more expensive than tap, it couldn’t have been a quality attribute Ralph was referring to, because then the qualifier “most” would imply some tap is more expensive than bottled water, which is untrue).

As for regulation, that’s the mechanism whereby people use to claim that tap water is superior to bottled water (cf. here, here, here…). So that’s not a strawman, because it’s a real argument that people make, and was implicitly included in Ralph’s post.

Well put. i do not attack the bottled water industry-if they are making a profit, there is nothing wrong. But in the scheme of things, wasting energy by delivering bottled water over long distances makes no sense.

Some of the cost of the waste is already borne by other stages in the production chain, for example in the form of aggressive buying policies where producers may be expected to credit for wasted end product when the supermarket throws it away.

A lot of waste would be stopped cold if the government quit allowing the adulteration of the food. They pump in sodium tripolyphosphate to steal from customers evenb though it hasn’t been tested in humans and they use the ill gotten gains to adulterate more food and allow more wastage. If all the shenanigans and mine products were removed from the food supply prices would increase nominally but the cost of waste would soar. This would tend to counteract higher prices by increasing supply as the waste issue was addressed.

I’ve told the wasted baked chicken story before. (Read the next few posts after that one too.)

TL;DR: Stores that sell hot baked chickens, and have some left over at closing time, just throw them out. I saw a dozen of them being tossed on the night before Thanksgiving. Just across town, homeless people living in a park are going hungry.