Food Insecurity, Not Lack of Food in America

Food insecurity exists in every county in America. In 2013, 17.5 million households were food insecure.  More and more people are relying on food banks and pantries.  This increased number has lead many caring individuals to collect food outside their local supermarkets for their local food banks, while others choose to donate their extra funds to provide meals for the hungry.  Together, we can end poverty in America if we begin to take responsibility for the issues.  One issue we can control as individuals is food waste in America.  

In the US, hunger isn’t caused by a lack of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty.  While fighting the war against poverty is a complex undertaking that involves many unique battles, hunger is a huge reality for those living in poverty.  One way we can combat the hunger epidemic in our country is to cut down on the food that is wasted every day.  Sadly, studies show that America wastes more food than any other country in the world.  40% of food is thrown away in the US every year, or about $165 billion worth. All of this uneaten food could feed tens of million of Americans suffering from food insecurity.  

The United States spends approximately 1 billion dollars each year on food waste disposal alone. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food leftovers account for the single-largest component of the waste stream by weight in the United States. Food waste includes uneaten food and food preparation scraps from these primary sources: residences, commercial establishments like restaurants, institutional sources like school cafeterias, and industrial sources like factory lunchrooms. Over 12 percent of the total municipal solid waste generated in American households was food scraps and less than three percent was recovered.  The average American throws out  about 240 lbs of food per year, and the average American family of 4 throws out food worth an estimated $2,275.  If we reflect upon the amount of food we all throw out on average in our own homes per week, we can imagine what this amount of food looks like when you multiply it by 116.12 million households nationwide.  

These statistics are not only due to the average American’s wastefulness. There are laws that make producers throw out a potato because is too small, cucumbers that are too curvy, and tomatoes that aren't the right shade of red.  Retailers define the ‘quality’ we live by, and we have to align ourselves accordingly. It is not based solely on nutritional value.  In fact, it is primarily economic.  Very few supermarket chains talk about their food waste.  Food products have two types of dates.  One is for customers: use by or best by.  The other is for supermarkets: sell by date. In order to avoid selling expired products supermarkets throw out food that is still perfectly edible.  Some supermarkets are attempting to cut down on food waste by donating food that is on the verge of reaching the “sell by date” to their local food bank for storage and distribution to its member nonprofits for distribution Americans in need.  Feeding America food banks, in addition to receiving monetary donations, also help cut down on food waste by accepting perfectly edible food from retailers.

In light of these shameful facts, we can also choose to change our own wasteful practices and lobby against these laws prohibiting perfectly edible fruits and vegetables from reaching the market.  Also, rather than throwing away food that we no longer “need” and opting to purchase it again at a future date, why not choose to freeze and store the food properly, eat all or store leftovers, donate non-perishables to local food pantries, cook the right amount of food per meal, or only buy what you need?  If only 1 in 5 people reduced their food waste, we would see a dramatic decrease in not only the amount of food filling up our landfills, but a decrease in the number of hungry Americans.  

Some supermarket chains are attempting to cut down on food waste by donating food that is on the verge of reaching the “sell by date” by donating it to their local food bank for storage and distribution to its member nonprofits for distribution Americans in need.  Feeding America food banks, in addition to receiving monetary donations, also help cut down on food waste by accepting perfectly edible food that is otherwise thrown out by retailers.  If our country were to reduce its food waste by only 20 percent, we could feed 25 million people struggling with food insecurity.