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All images here courtesy of DIVEthefilm.com

Waste Not, Want Not

American anomaly. We lament the disappearance of Twinkies, but we also diet and obsess over whether a particular food is “healthy” or not. But whether we’re dieting or indulging, one thing is clear: We don’t value food the way it deserves to be valued. The great distance between the farm and our kitchen table, our disconnection from the soil that requires tending and the fresh products that require harvesting—these enable our unhealthy lack of appreciation for the food that sustains us. We’re aware that somewhere in the world children’s bellies swell with hunger and people die of starvation, but we perceive these to be far-off places and situations we can do nothing about. One result of this dysfunctional relationship with food is the staggering amount of food that is wasted every day. As much as 40 percent of all food produced in the US—approximately 100 billion pounds of food each year—goes uneaten and rots in landfills. Each year in Europe and the US almost 2,000 pounds of food are produced for each person, but over 600 of those are discarded between the farm and the consumer’s table. In 2010 alone, Americans wasted close to 34 million tons of food, enough to fill the Empire State Building 91 times. Two billion people could be fed with the amount that this nation alone throws away each year. On an individual basis, the average American consumer wastes 10 times the amount of a person living in Southeast Asia and 50 percent more than Americans did just 40 years ago. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the food wasted by consumers in

The shocking reality of food waste in the industrialized world by Halee Gray Scott

T

he history of my relationship with food reads like a bad romance. There are times I’ve adored it, like when our family would gather around my great-grandmother’s table weighted down with heaping mounds of creamy mashed potatoes, roasted corn on the cob, and platters of Southern-fried chicken or when I encountered the strawberry-stuffed crepes served up at Jean-Philippe Patisserie in the lobby of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Nev. But most of the time, food has been the enemy, my relationship with it warped because of an eating disorder that stretched across the span of a whole decade—from the painful adolescent years of junior high to my soul-searching early 20s. Though my experience is admittedly extreme, it’s by no means an

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Two billion people could be fed with the amount that this nation alone throws away each year. industrialized countries (222 million tons) is almost equal to the total net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons). Meanwhile, food shortage isn’t just a problem for those who live in far-off places. In the US, more than one out of five children—almost 17 million children under the age of 18—live with food insecurity every day. This means they’re not sure where their next meal will come from and often have to skip meals or go a day without eating. High unemployment since the 2008-2009 recession has driven up enrollment in SNAP (food stamps), bringing it to almost 48 million people by the end of last year. In a report issued by the Department of Agriculture, 97 percent of those surveyed said that they ate less or skipped a meal since the recession, and 91 percent said they ran short of food often throughout the year. Food waste isn’t just an issue of distribution in which some have food in abundance while others have little; it’s also an environmental issue. Getting food to consumers makes up 10 percent of the US enDIVE! is a documentary by Jeremy Seifert that reveals how America ergy budget and uses throws away billions of pounds of 50 percent of our land food a year. Follow him and his friends and 80 percent of as they “dumpster dive” in the back freshwater consumed alleys and gated garbage receptacles in the US. This means of Los Angeles supermarkets. In the process, they uncover thousands of that 40 percent of all dollars’ worth of good food — as those resources are well as the ugly fact that grocery wasted, in addition to stores know they are wasting and the waste in energy most refuse to do anything about and the large amounts it. A call to action to help distribute perfectly good food that will otherwise of unnecessary chemigo into the dumpster. Learn more at cals released into the DIVEthefilm.com. environment. Food waste accounts for 25 percent of freshwater

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PRISMmagazine.org

Grocery stores dispose of tons of fresh food that is blemished or close to expiration date but still perfectly edible.

consumption and more than 300 million barrels of oil each year. Further, decomposing food waste emits methane and carbon dioxide, greenhouse gasses that some believe contribute to climate change. Methane is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and the amount emitted from food waste rotting in landfills accounts for 25 percent of US methane emissions. Food waste is a deeply moral and theological problem. At least on the consumer level and possibly even on the corporate level, food waste is born of the sin of gluttony. Back when I was a little girl, my grandparents would take me to the Mexi-Teria, a restaurant that served up delicious Tex-Mex food, cafeteria-style. As we would move past the selections, I would always pick out more than I could eat. As he paid the bill, my grandpa would always say, “Halee, your eyes are bigger than your stomach!” He was right—I never finished all my food. That, in a nutshell, is what’s happening in homes across the country—we buy far more—40 percent more—than we can possibly eat. Since we purchase the food, the demand is there, so production continues at those levels. Christians can and should model good stewardship of our resources by analyzing the food they actually eat and making purchases consistent with their level of consumption. There are ways to go even further, such as contacting your local grocer to see what’s being done with leftover food. Food pantries can be stocked with the overabundance of food from individual homes, local restaurants, and grocery stores. The end of food waste begins with a theologically accurate perception of the value of food and what God intended it to be. We’ve got to lay aside our inaccurate ideas about food—food as the enemy, food as an idol—and embrace it thankfully as a God-given source of energy from which to live well. (Editor’s note: Go to PRISMmagazine.org/endnotes to view sources for statistics cited here.)

Halee Gray Scott is an author, scholar, and researcher. Her research and teaching focuses on theology, spiritual formation, and leadership. Her book, Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women, is due out next year from Zondervan.

Waste Not, Want Not  

PRISM May/June 2013 featured column about food waste and Dive! the movie.

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