Do We Really Love Food? The Surprising Answer Lurking in Our Trash

A creative video project shows the consequences of chucking nearly half of our grub in the garbage.
Apr 23, 2014·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

It’s a standard question on dating websites and personality tests: What’s your favorite food? Although we all have go-to meals—and we don’t mind telling other folks about our love of Thai red curry or buckwheat pancakes—it's likely we all also have a dirty foodie secret lurking in our refrigerators and cupboards: chicken we took out to thaw but didn’t end up baking, tomatoes we bought two weeks ago that have gone bad, and bread that’s seen better days.

Now a creative clip from YouTube science video makers Minute Earth and the University of Minnesota’s Food Policy Research Center calls out our wasteful ways. Aptly titled “Love Letter to Food,” the video kicks off with a diverse array of people talking directly to “food.” They share how they love the variety of munchies available, from fruit to sweet treats. But just when we start remembering how much we, too, like eating vanilla ice cream cones, the video makes a left turn and offers food a sincere apology.

“You deserve to be eaten,” says one man. “I throw away almost half of you, enough calories to feed 150 million people,” says another guy as he shoves half a tabletop of food on the floor.

Think that’s shocking? Just wait till you get to the part where one of the dudes starts pouring corn into the trash. Even though we’re less likely to discard poultry, meat, and dairy products, when we do throw those into the garbage, we’re also essentially tossing the bags of grain it took to feed those animals.

The clip runs through some of the common reasons we waste food—everything from it sometimes being cheaper to let crops rot than to harvest them to our fear of less-than-perfect-looking bananas. But the main culprit lies in our homes. We buy too much food at once and forget it’s sitting in a drawer in our fridges.

Although 50 million Americans are food insecure and one in four children goes to bed hungry every night, most of us have the luxury of consigning fruits and vegetables to the rubbish bin. As one food lover notes, “On average, I spend a smaller fraction of my household budget on you [food] than in any other country or any other time in history.” We simply don’t notice the cost of wasting it.

The video doesn’t offer any silver bullets for fixing this food-to-trash problem. Instead, it gives us a common-sense reminder that our own actions are part of the solution: If we really love food, we’ll only buy what we need, and we’ll eat what we buy.