American Wasteland

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jonathan Bloom discusses our culture of excess and looks at our history and habit of wasting food. In American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It), Bloom writes about working at grocery stores, a fast food chain, and at a food recovery group, and speaks with experts to discover why and how we waste, and what we can do to change our ways.


Jonathan Bloom

Comments [18]

Ei from New Jersey

Rutgers University has an interesting program where unused and discarded food from the dining halls is sold to pig farmers. They have been doing this for years, and consider it a great success. Maybe more food establishments should think to follow a similar model?

Dec. 13 2010 04:57 PM

The more I pay attention to the food movement, the more I htink the loss of "home ec" ahs created a huge oppty for industrial food producers

We need some kind of living courses! I don't mean to suggest anything retro but I have such a skill set from my traditional mother - all this stuff does require creativity, leftovers are a fun challenge!

True true I lived in France with half a fridge - they eat so fabulously well but their whole attitude is so different!

Dec. 13 2010 02:33 PM


you could tip someone off or take a photo and give it to someone else

Dec. 13 2010 02:17 PM

I agree with Jonathan Bloom—there is a lot of food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables that spoil and go to waste everyday. Often the food market staff will discard these spoiled, blemished and non-perfect items in order to maintain the overall appearance of high quality and freshness.

I believe, rather that the food market could directly benefit by collecting, preparing and selling (or giving away) these items as soup and ready-to-eat entrees. This would also provide a way for the market to promote the seasonal fruits and vegetables available and to instruct their customers how to prepare them.

Farmers have always done this.

When I grew up on (Eastern) Long Island, I worked for such a small local farmer. Everyday during the summer the owner would select the best vegetables to bring to local market or to sell in their road-side farm-stand. The blemished and non-perfect vegetables would often be given to us workers in part to share, and to acknowledge our hard labor and effort. I would bring these vegetables home and give them to my mother, as she would also share them with our neighbors. My mom could and would cook lunch or dinner for us everyday from a couple of bruised and blemished tomatoes, a squash, or some cabbage.

Nothing went to waste, and everything was wonderful!

Dec. 13 2010 01:56 PM
Sher from Manhattan

Front page New York TImes article Friday, Dec 10 highlighted how entire city of Kristianstad, Sweden now mostly runs on re-processed biological material, including food waste, so use of fossil fuels is severely curtailed citywide.

Dec. 13 2010 12:40 PM

It would be great if food producers would package food in smaller portions. Single people and couples are probably the biggest sinners on throwing food away (I know I am). But it won't happen 'cause it isn't that profitable.

Dec. 13 2010 12:38 PM
daniel from BK

Trader Joe's
I live near TJ's in Cobble Hill/Brooklyn Hights.

Trader Joe's nightly throws out dozens of pounds of fresh produce, drawing people, none of which could be described as homeless, to salvage this plentiful bounty. I cannot believe that a store like this with this kind of reputation could throw out so much nutritious food. Is this the American way?

Dec. 13 2010 12:37 PM
Bob from Avon-by-the-Sea, NJ

A small thing, but indicative. I used to be able to break off parts of bunches of grapes to get small amounts. Now they are sold in large bags. As a single person, I would never eat two pounds of grapes, but I am being forced to buy them that way at many supermarkets.

Dec. 13 2010 12:31 PM

Speaking of prepared foods.
I work in a large hotel here in Manhattan.
The amount of food thrown out in the employee cafeteria is staggering.
They cook the most unpalatable and unhealthy food for about on thousand people at six in the morning .
And at ten at night I watch the cafeteria attendant throw out 5 or so industrial size garbage cans full of hot food.
I've written letters (actually everybody in the hotel writes letters) to no avail.
I've been tempted to photograph the waste and start a blog but I'm worried about my job security .
It is a huge corporation and very sensitive to it's public image.

Dec. 13 2010 12:30 PM

compared to getting consumers to eat themselves into obesity as a profit strategy, as food companies have done quite well, getting consumers to simply throw away half their food sounds downright easy!

And for them, irresistible. From purely a business pov, can you blame them?

Dec. 13 2010 12:28 PM
Cynthea from Rego Park, NY

Jonathan's thoughts about this?

My father is frequently in Atlantic City and loves the buffets @ the hotes. He grew up w/ and still has that depression era mentality. He has been horrified that @ the end of the meal hour (breakfast, lunch and dinner), the food service personnel take all of the remaining food on the buffet tables and dump it into those large grey garbage buckets. It all perishes and goes out in the garbage when just down the block some of the most depressed neighborhoods in America are.

This has always horrified me and I know that City Harvest in NYC doesn't work that far South.

Jonathan, any thoughts on the food excess in the Hospitality Industry? Anything that we can do with this excess?

Dec. 13 2010 12:27 PM
Sarah from UES

Can you ask him about "bent and dent" grocery stores? My parents in Pennsylvania shop at a store that sells near expired or dented cans run by the Amish. I know it saves food but it seems like another division in class as their customers are lower-middle class and the poor.

Dec. 13 2010 12:26 PM
Noreen from New City, NY

Consider every single grocery store in America with a display case full of fresh meats and seafood. What happens to all of that food at the end of the day?

Dec. 13 2010 12:17 PM
Wayne Surber from Brooklyn

In regards to the farmers that don't harvest the food grown. Is it truly accurate to consider all of that as waste? When a farmer turns his crop into the soil he/s he is adding that back into the soil and the power to grow more will increase in that field over time. It's bad enough farmer's harvest as much as they do from their fields. While I see the good that could come from picking these harvest for those in need. I would suggest that there are needs of the soil as well. Perhaps energy and money is better invested in increasing efficiencies in the food distribution systems.

Dec. 13 2010 12:16 PM
Lloyd from Manhattan

I think most wasted food is not from consumers. Producers put out more than they know can be sold. The merchants then discard unsold food. Manufacturers shred unsold food rather than donate it.

Dec. 13 2010 12:15 PM
Esther from nyc

We need to be more careful about not throwing out food, even if there is plenty of food to go around. According to the Jewish law, it is transgression to throw out good food, even if there is plenty more....

Dec. 13 2010 12:11 PM
oil monkey

It is environmentally criminal to sequester so many nutrients in wasted food when it gets buried in a land-fill. At the very least it should be composted and actively put back into the nutrient cycle.

Dec. 13 2010 12:10 PM
Sue from North Salem, NY

One word: compost

Dec. 13 2010 12:10 PM

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