One of the first things that struck me when I came to the US is the massive wastage of food. The most obvious signs of this can be found in the dumpsters behind grocery stores and restaurants where plenty of perfectly good food is thrown away because it is easier to do so than it is to make arrangements to divert it to people who might be able to use it, or because of dates stamped on the product that suggest that it is unsafe to eat when it is not, or because they are afraid of being held liable if someone falls ill. There are poor and homeless people who depend upon finding edible food in dumpsters in order to survive but surely there must be a better way of getting that food to them?
What is even harder to understand is food that is prepared in the home and yet thrown away, apparently because people don’t eat leftovers.
What researchers found was staggering: The average person wasted 3.5 pounds of food per week. Of that, only a third consisted of inedible parts, such as chicken bones or banana peels. And of the remaining, edible trashed food, bin digs found that 23 percent consisted of prepared leftovers, from any source — followed by fruits and vegetables, baked goods, and liquids and oils.
Gunders said that many consumers appear to stash Tupperware containers in their fridge and then forget to excavate them before the food goes bad. Other times, consumers grow bored of eating the same food on multiple occasions.
“There were two big reasons people threw out edible food,” Gunders said. “They thought it had spoiled, or they just didn’t like leftovers.”
Disdain for leftovers seems to have started in the 1960s with rising prosperity that enabled people who were too lazy or tired to cook to see eating out as a better option than eating leftovers. Food is still comparatively cheap in the US, so throwing food away is not equated with throwing money away, at least not much.
Maybe because I grew up in a developing country, the thought of throwing away any edible food at all is abhorrent to me, though I know other people who also grew up in Sri Lanka and now live in the US and they have acquired the attitude that they need fresh cooked meals each day and disdain leftovers. I will make sure that all the leftovers in the fridge end up being used in some form, quite often in an omelet and these turn out to be pretty tasty. If part of a fruit has gone bad, I will cut it out and eat the rest, even if it does not taste that great. In fact, leftovers are an essential part of our home food system. We deliberately make more food than one meal requires, refrigerate part of it, and freeze the rest. As a result of this system, we spend much less time on cooking, always have good, home-cooked food to eat, and waste almost nothing. What’s not to like about that system?
To me it is a sign of moral failure to waste food and people who worry about wasted food in the US think that it will require wholesale overhaul in values to get people to change their habits, and will require a return to the way of thinking during World War I and II when it was considered morally wrong to waste food.