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American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of its Food

Book review: Jonathan Bloom’s “American Wasteland” and the ethical side of food disposal.

American Wasteland cover

American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of its Food
by Jonathan Bloom
Da Capo Press, 2010, 360 pages, $26.00

We Americans waste a staggering amount of food—25 to 50 percent of all food produced in the United States. It happens at all stages of the food production cycle. Some is left to rot in farm fields; some is discarded by grocers for not being the right size, shape, or color; and some makes it all the way to our plates, only to languish as leftovers at the back of the fridge or get pushed into the trash or garbage disposal. All of this adds up to approximately 160 billion pounds of edible food waste annually in the United States.

Food waste has economic, ethical, and environmental implications. Food that ends up in a landfill wastes the resources used in growing it, and, as it decays, emits methane, a greenhouse gas that traps heat more effectively than carbon dioxide.

While many Americans are concerned about the ethical sourcing of their food—a bevy of books, articles, and blogs have breathlessly chronicled food’s journey from farm to table—the topic of ethical food disposal is often kicked to the curb. Which is why Jonathan Bloom’s discussion of the subject in American Wasteland is so refreshing. Bloom, a food waste expert who writes the blog Wasted Food, leaves no landfill unclimbed and no Tupperware container unopened in his examination of the systemic causes of food waste from both industrial and household perspectives. Written in an engaging tone, the book examines food waste issues both large (the paradoxical coexistence of food waste and hunger) and small (the size of our plates), adding historical, cultural, and even religious context. For every problem Bloom finds, he proposes a change that could help ease our country’s food-waste problem.

While many Americans are concerned about the ethical sourcing of their food, the topic of ethical food disposal is often kicked to the curb.

Bloom profiles creative ways to counteract food waste, from students at Reed College who “scrounge,” eating other students’ leftover food in the cafeteria, to the new technology behind anaerobic digesters, to Great Britain’s successful campaign against food waste that includes a landfill tax. Bloom also lists ways households can reduce food waste and proposes more sweeping systemic changes in a section called “If I Were King of the Forest.”

American Wasteland makes an interesting and persuasive argument for why you should care about food waste and what you can do about it—proving that you can have your cake, and eat the leftovers too.


Laura Kaliebe wrote this review for Beyond Prisons, the Summer 2011 issue of YES! Magazine. Laura is a Wisconsin-based journalist.

 

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