Chewing the Fat: Trimming Your Waste

Ever wonder how much otherwise edible food gets tossed every day? If you haven't before, this post over at Treehugger will get you thinking. It cites a recent study at American University that found students waste less cafeteria food when they can't use trays, essentially because they can't pile up everything that looks good, and then they have to wait in line again with each trip back. So at least there's a solution in the works for college campuses.

Plus they can divert the money usually spent on trays to something useful, like recruiting athletes.

But what about similar restaurants across the country, who serve it up cafeteria or buffet style? When food sits too long, it takes on a limp and pale aspect--and (hopefully) gets changed out. Meanwhile, anyone who's ever worked banquet events knows caterers generally err on the side of "too much." How many of these happen every day in the U.S.?

Back in 2004, Food Production Daily reported on a study estimating as much as half of the food produced for American consumption goes to waste. While that figure seems high, would you really be shocked if it's true? One notable tidbit from the article:

On average, households waste 14 per cent of their food purchases. Fifteen per cent of that includes products still within their expiration date but never opened. [Reports estimate] an average family of four currently tosses out $590 per year, just in meat, fruits, vegetables and grain products.

Ah, but lest you think this is an American phenomenon, a 2007 BBC story reported British households waste 3.3 million tons of food annually.

One solution to restaurant waste is to simply give it to those in need, but this has its own problems. Upon learning that restaurants don't hand out leftovers to the homeless for fear of lawsuits, 11-year-old Jack Davis got Florida lawmakers to pass a bill preventing charitable restaurateurs from legal liability should someone get sick from donated meals. At the time the bill was going through the legislative process, Orlando had banned food service for the downtown homeless.

With so much food tossed out every day, moral outrage is common. Adherents of the freegan movement get most of their food, and everything else they need, by dumpster diving a few nights a week. If you want to see freegans in action, Youtube has plenty of videos. This Anderson Cooper story has the least condescending coverage.

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