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What’s Wrong With Leftovers?

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Today’s consumers waste 40% of their food.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been married to Tyler for almost two years now. It seems just yesterday we exchanged our vows and moved into our farmhouse. As a new bride, I was determined to put a new and exciting dish on the table each night for my husband. I was convinced we could have a family meal together at the same time each night -- late nights in the field quickly killed that dream -- but I still tried to make new recipes for our little family.

Admittedly a bit green in the kitchen, I was cooking for Tyler and myself the family-sized recipes my mom used for her five-person family. Needless to say, there were a lot of leftovers. So, I would freeze half of what I made to eat later and send the remaining leftovers with Tyler for his work lunches. This has saved us a lot of time and money, as I’m able to pull out a pre-made dish from the freezer, and Tyler has been able to have home-made hot lunches at work.

The same goes with the garden -- I’ve learned to can and freeze to save some of our excess produce for the wintertime. To me, it’s financially savvy to do so, and it’s nice to have food stocked up for winter, when the weather can make it hard to get to town for supplies.

Saving food just makes sense, but apparently, most Americans skip leftovers and dump their food in the trash.

As reported in the LA Times, “Americans are throwing out nearly every other bite of food, wasting up to 40% of the country’s supply each year – a mass of uneaten provisions worth $165 billion, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). An average family of four squanders $2,275 in food each year, or 20/lbs./person/month.

“Since the 1970s, the amount of uneaten fare that is dumped has jumped 50%. The average American trashes 10 times as much food as a consumer in Southeast Asia, according to the NRDC. Such profligacy is especially unwarranted in a time of record drought, high food prices expected to get higher, and families unable to afford food, according to NRDC. Efforts are already in place in Europe to cut back on food waste. But American consumers are used to seeing pyramids of fresh produce in their local markets and grocery stores, which results in $15 billion annually in unsold fruits and vegetables, according to NRDC.

“Half of American soil and many other key resources are used for agriculture – NRDC says wasted food eats up a quarter of all freshwater consumed in the U.S. along with 4% of the oil, while producing 23% of the methane emissions.”

Read the full report here.

One in every eight Americans goes to bed hungry at night, yet we are throwing away almost half of our food. That’s a shame, especially at a time when food prices are rising, poverty is increasing and agriculture is working hard to efficiently meet consumer demands.

Do you find the statistics of how much food is wasted in the U.S. startling? What steps do you take to minimize your food waste?

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

Anonymous (not verified)
on Aug 28, 2012

Love reading your articles every morning because it is so easy to relate to them. Keep up the good work.

Juanita Reed-Boniface (not verified)
on Aug 28, 2012

We have a farming business in our community who profits from these leftovers a by recycling them. Second Harvest Farms was established by LeRoy Johnson when he received three pigs from his father-in-law as a wedding gift. It was during the depression and he did not have funds to purchase feed, so he visited neighboring groceries and collected the waste produce for the hogs to ear. This concept is still being used through three Johnson farms. Each day 13 trust leave the farms to pick up 140 tons of food waste from restaurants, schools, nursing homes and other facilities. Food wastes are brought to the farm, cooked to 212 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes and fed to livestock. The 3 farms produce 6,000 hogs annually. Cattle are also raised on one of the farms. Manure generated by the farms is sold to local farmers for fertilizer. It is quite an enterprise!! The Johnson's were named the 2012 Anoka Co, MN Farm Family of the year

The statistics in this article surprised me, but not after talking to the Johnson's.

D. A. (not verified)
on Aug 28, 2012

I grew up the child of gardeners, grandchild of farmers, and like you, Amanda, learned to can and freeze fresh food at an early age. I was taught to take all I want to eat, but to eat all I take. Throwing out and wasting food was unheard of. Our grandparents had chickens and hogs to use their scraps and trimmings. These days, we have only cattle, and the chickens and hogs are gone from our farm now, although they may return someday, if we get some help. But every unused seed, core or trimming from every vegetable goes into our compost, and in few months the compost goes to nourish another crop of fruits and vegetables. We even compost some paper and cotton goods. The bones from our meats are boiled to make highly nutritious stock for soups, stews and gravies, an ancient secret for healing the sick and restoring lost strength. Afterward, the boiled bones go to entertain our dogs. If they survive that, they nourish the roots of our trees. More and more people are re-learning the true economy of food production. Economy means, "the prudent managing of resources to avoid extravagant expenditure, exploitation or waste—the disciplined, effective, sustainable, sparing, yet caring employment of those resources, both natural and human." If we want a better national economy we must start at home, as you do, with more a more caring, careful, and less wasteful personal economy.

Val Wagner (not verified)
on Aug 28, 2012

I foresee these numbers to rise, as our schools are no longer allowed to serve leftovers. Imagine the waste that has come with the new changes to the school foods rule. It's a sad situation.

on Aug 28, 2012

I recently heard Dr. Dan Thomson from Kansas State University talk about food waste. According to Dr. Thomson, a study at KSU found that students throw away 1 lb. of food per day in the cafeteria at a value of $5/lb. With approximately 14,000 students eating in the cafeteria every day that's $70,000 worth of food per day! Now multiply that by the number of college students in the U.S. and the numbers would boggle the mind. Of course, this isn't just an issue with college students. It's happening at home, in restaurants, etc. with every meal. Food waste is a major issue we need to address as part of the discussion on how we are going to feed a growing world population.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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