The Sad Story of a Strawberry Could Help Convince Americans to Waste Less Food

A new campaign from the Ad Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council focuses on the emotional side of scrapped fruit.
(Photo: Matt Meadows/Getty Images)
Apr 20, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

A strawberry is a bright, cheerful thing. Turned plump, sweet, and red under the California sun before being plucked, packed, and shipped off to the grocery store, a berry is a future moment of small joy—that is, if it isn’t left to rot in the back of the refrigerator.

Yet that’s one fate of the 40 percent of all food in the U.S. that goes uneaten every year, costing $162 billion annually. (Others include getting scraped off our plates at the end of a meal or being tossed in the Dumpster behind a supermarket when it has reached its “best by” date.) Riding the wave of such astonishing statistics, food waste has become an increasingly visible issue in the past couple of years, but a PSA launched Wednesday by the Ad Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council appeals to pathos to make its point.

In a two-minute online video (which will also appear in shorter form on television), we see the full life cycle of a single strawberry. It’s a story that—spoiler alert—ends in a moldy place at the bottom of a trash can. Set to the score from Disney’s Up, it’s an oddly emotional, compelling clip.

“It’s not just good food getting thrown away that upsets me as a chef,” Tom Colicchio, Top Chef judge and cofounder of Food Policy Action, said in a statement. “It’s that everything that goes into producing that food—the land, the water, the climate pollution, the labor, and the love it takes to get it to the plate—all of it also gets wasted. We have a great opportunity to fix this problem. Stopping food waste starts at home.”

That notion—the waste of resources that go into a single strawberry or other piece of food—drives the print campaign, “Save the Food,” and its website. Instead of “Best If Used By” printed on products such as bread and milk—a label that is unregulated and does not accurately reflect when the contents are spoiled—the labels read “Best If Used.”

Both the Obama administration and the United Nations have targeted a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030. But as is made clear by a recently published “road map” to hitting a 20 percent reduction in a decade, those targets will be difficult to meet. Cost is one significant barrier: The ambitious plan would cost $18 billion to implement. But as the report’s authors noted, the cost is “less than a tenth of a penny of investment per pound of food waste reduced” and saves $5.6 billion each year by cutting down on the number of strawberries and other foods that wind up in the trash.

But the sad end met by a single strawberry isn’t about enormous government spending programs or broad adoption of eating food items currently treated as scraps to be trashed. It’s about how individuals can change behavior and, in turn, change a larger problem. To that end, the website has a helpful “Tips” section suggesting ways to reduce at-home waste.

“With small steps, we can save large amounts of food—and along with it, money and precious natural resources. The more food we save, the more we can share with hungry Americans, the more we can reduce climate pollution, and the more water won’t go to waste,” Rhea Suh, the president of NRDC, said in a statement.