The U.N. Wants Clean Plates and Less Food Waste (Yes, You, America)

The United Nations is the latest group to call out the U.S. on its food waste.

Reducing food waste in America could reduce global consumption. (Photo: Visions of America/Getty Images)

Jan 23, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Are you ready to reduce your “foodprint”?

Increasingly, that’s the new buzzword as eco-conscious folks scramble to address what appears to be one of the biggest environmental and social problems going on right under our upturned noses: food waste.

This thing is huge. The United Nations, which launched a global campaign to fight the issue this week, estimates that 1.3 billion metric tons of food is lost or wasted each year around the world. And while the campaign may technically be “global,” it’s no surprise that some countries (guess who?!) are worse offenders than others.

As Susie Cagle at Grist notes: “This is a problem of the incredibly privileged. According to the U.N., European and North American consumers waste upwards of 10 times what African and south Asian consumers do.”

Indeed, adding to the global perception of America as a nation of overindulged gluttons, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report recently that found a whopping 40 percent of the food in the U.S. is wasted, from crops that rot in the field to consumers who prematurely pitch perfectly good food.

As the report states: “Getting food to our tables eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. That is more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. Not only does this mean that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also 25 percent of all freshwater and huge amounts of unnecessary chemicals, energy, and land.”

The U.N. campaign (“Think, Eat, Save”) calls on consumers to reduce their food waste in a number of ways, which taken together show just how far we’ve come from the days of plucky pioneers who took no morsel for granted. These include eating your leftovers, requesting doggie bags at restaurants, and being conscious of marketing gimmicks at the grocery store intended to get you to buy food you don’t need (and won’t end up eating). Remember when we had to struggle through the lean winter months out on the prairie by subsisting on a waning supply of salt pork? Neither do we.

There was one thing among the rather obvious suggestions that did surprise us, though: Those “expiration” dates printed on a lot of food containers? The U.N. says consumers in the States can basically ignore them. “In the US, ‘sell-by’ and ‘use-by’ dates are not federally regulated and do not indicate safety, except on certain baby foods. Rather, they are manufacturer suggestions for peak quality. Most foods can be safely consumed well after their use-by dates.”

Yikes—we’ve got some leftover hummus to go dig out of the can.