11 Great Posters From When We Used to Care About Wasting Food

Don't waste good food poster
credit: Visual News

Over at NRDC Switchboard, Dana Gunders writes Dear Government: Food Waste is a Matter of Urgency. Please Take It Seriously. It's an important post about a subject that is often ignored: that well over 40% of food in North America is wasted. Worldwide, almost a third of all food is lost to poor harvesting, lousy distribution, poor storage and ridiculous portion sizes. And it isn't just the food wasted; it's also the water, fertilizer and fuel. Dana notes that the government is doing close to nothing about the problem, but that it once thought it important enough to run poster campaigns. She illustrates her post with her favourite from the US Navy in World War II. I have been collecting images of these posters for a couple of years, so here is an illustrated version of Dana's five recommendations to help solve the problem of food waste in America.

credit: WWI Poster

Dana's favourite poster has a bit of humour, but in World War I they were just dire and threatening. I love this one, it is so over the top and politically incorrect, I doubt anyone thought that scraping your leftovers into the bin was the "greatest crime in Christendom," wherever that is. Conduct a comprehensive study of food losses throughout the U.S. food system.

The adage “you manage what you measure” applies. Food loss has become such a huge problem partly because it is not being measured or studied, thus making it difficult to understand or evaluate progress.
credit: WWI Poster

They got a little more colourful later in the war. Establish national goals.

Reducing food loss in the United States should be a national priority, starting with the establishment of clear and specific efficiency improvement targets as was done in Europe.
credit: WWI Poster

But even in 1917, surely they could do better than this. Address date labeling confusion.

Dates on food products do not indicate food safety, yet many consumers believe that they do and discard food accordingly. The United Kingdom recently set guidelines to standardize date labeling on foods, after research there suggested clarifying its meaning to the public could reduce household food losses by as much as 20 percent.
credit: WWII Poster

The graphics got a little bit more sophisticated by WWII. Incentivize food recovery.

Only about 10 percent of surplus edible food is currently recovered in the United States. Clearly, there is room for significant improvement.
credit: WWII Poster

But they could still be pretty lame. Improve public awareness.

Love Food Hate Waste, a major public-awareness campaign launched in the United Kingdom, has been extremely successful. Avoidable household food waste has dropped 18 percent in the five years that the campaign has run.
credit: WWII Poster

This is my favourite Navy poster. Dana concludes:

There are things each of us can do on our own to reduce our own waste, but the basis for systemic action needs to come from our nation’s leadership. Let’s raise this issue as a priority at the national level because after all, it’s our resources are going into growing all that food that’s going to waste and our hungry neighbors who are not getting to eat it.

Read it all at

credit: WWII Poster

One way to reduce waste is to use your leftovers, although this doesn't look as good as the copy suggests it might be.

credit: WWII Poster

The British, having been in the war a few years longer, perhaps had a bit more time to develop a sense of humour about it; some of their posters are a lot of fun.

credit: WWII Poster

It doesn't get any simpler or more graphic than this.


credit: WWII

But in the end, my favorite food related poster is this one from the US Food Administration, because it really summarizes everything Americans needed to do then and now, from the diets we choose to the way we buy them and the quantities we serve. It should be on every wall. Read the article that inspired this at NRDC Switchboard Other poster slideshows: Frugal Green Living: Posters for the Movement