Hungry in America…really?

Written by BG Howard

June 14, 2023

A recent solicitation from an organization speaking of the fight against hunger in the US, prompted me to do a little research to understand the exact nature of the problem. General exceptions exist to most every standard presented as a rule. That said, there’s no doubt some people in this country have a demonstrated need but what I discovered caused me to rethink much of my own reasoning concerning food.

Given the fact there are a number of countries around the world with serious malnutrition issues, it was hard for me to digest the telling information about our homeland. In a 2012 interview with author Jonathan Bloom on NPR (National Public Radio), a scientist at the National Resources Defense Council, Ms. Dana Gunders, disclosed statistics that should trouble any citizen of this country who has a conscience. She identified that Americans waste thirty-three million tons of food each year. When one considers, that’s enough to feed virtually every hungry person in the world until they’re all obese. Then citizens of other countries can be just like most of us in America; struggling with their bulging mid-sections as well.

In truth, studies show about forty percent of food in the United States simply goes uneaten. Economically, that means Americans are casually throwing $165 billion dollars ($165,000,000,000.00) worth of food into the garbage every year. Its estimated there’s roughly fifty percent more waste per person in this country than in the 1970’s as the amount of wasted foods has steadily increased each year.

It’s enough that people in “the land of plenty” are so wasteful but as bad, or worse, than the food wasted by consumers is the fact farmers’ crops are sometimes simply left in the fields. If there happens to be a significant decrease in the price of their respective produce crops before time for harvest, it’s just not financially beneficial for them to reap the field’s output. When the market price is too low, farmers aren’t able to afford to harvest their crops because they won’t make up the difference in price. In those unfortunate cases, acres of otherwise perfectly good yield are simply left in the fields to decay.

That scenario actually fosters an entirely different food problem as decaying eatables on farms and in landfills produces methane. This potent greenhouse gas contributes significantly to environmental problems such as climate change and global warming. Other consequences attributed to the ill affects of greenhouse gasses include ozone depletion, adverse effects on biodiversity (diversity among and within plant and animal species in an environment), and rising of the sea level among others.

Another issue concerning food waste stems from inadequate institutional disposal methods in places such as schools, hospitals, restaurants, supermarkets, etc. In these settings, uneaten foods are simply discarded and typically go out with the garbage to eventually end up in the local landfill.

Similarly, as much a concern is the fact many of us take a trip to the supermarket and stock up on meats, fruits, and vegetables with the intent of preparing healthier meals. As fate would have it, life happens and that dinner has to be put off a day, and then another day, and yet another. By the time preparation of the meal can be started, the vegetables are wilted, the fruits have unsightly spots, and the meats either freezer burned or have developed its own exercise regimen and begun walking. Of course, the well-intended meal ends up in the garbage and dinner has to be selected from whatever fast-food menu is within close proximity of home.

These issues, I feel, serve as proof of the fact Americans have become spoiled and refuse to accept anything considered substandard. How often do we buy a head of lettuce and inadvertently leave it in the refrigerator too long? Instead of removing the outer layers and still utilizing the perfectly good interior, the entire thing is tossed out.

We’ve become conditioned to picking up the best looking apples, oranges, and melons in the supermarket which leaves all those with blemishes or the slightest imperfection destined for the garbage. In short, we should take a good look at ourselves when seeking to lay blame as all of American society plays a part.

These concerns can be easily addressed by things like better planning of daily meals and “eating down” foods in the refrigerator before going shopping. Repurposing things that have other uses is a help such as Starbucks’ converting coffee grounds and unsold pastries into laundry plastics and laundry detergent. While reprocessing glass and plastics is catching on, we only recycle 3% of the country’s food waste. More and more, it seems even with all his advancements, man is still destined to destroy himself. I could be wrong but it’s just something to consider.

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