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America, a new study suggests, wastes 40% of its food supply annually. Published in the Public Library of Science, the research indicates a dramatic increase over the last decades, up from 28% in 1974.
This number, however, is not what it seems.To understand this percentage, you have to first look at what it intends to calculate.
It does not represent the amount of food that makes it into our refrigerators and pantries only to end up in the garbage. This waste is usually estimated to be closer to 27 % of all food available for consumption, or about one pound per person per day.
Instead, the PLoS study's 40% is an estimate of waste in the entire food system. This means that all the waste that occurs between the field and processing plant, that plant and the store, the store and our homes, and our refrigerators and our mouths is included.
Moreover, the number actually represents a loss of potential energy: About 1,400 kcal, or calories, per person, per day.
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The Cost of Waste
Researchers found that this wasted food represented an incredible cost in resources. According to their calculations, one quarter of the United States' annual consumption of freshwater and an estimated 300 million barrels of oil are used to produce food that is eventually wasted.
Wasted food is contributing to climate change too. The report notes that food left to rot in landfills contributes methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere.
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Wasted Food is Making Us Fatter
It's not an intuitive thought, but food waste is actually contributing to our obesity. Researchers argue that the obesity epidemic in the United States is the result of a "push effect," meaning people eat more of the foods that are bad for them because they are readily available and heavily marketed.
We produce more than we can eat, the study shows, but we eat far more than we need.
So, is saying 40 percent of the United States' food supply goes to waste misleading? Yes, perhaps a bit, but it alerts us to the alarming and systemic problems that plague our food supply chain.