Energy Initiative Blogs

Food Waste: from Farm to Fork

by Ruxandra Griza | Feb 04, 2016

According to data compiled in an NRDC report by Dana Gunders, about 40% of the food produced in the United States goes to waste, costing businesses and consumers $165 billion every year. This is a serious and pressing issue, especially when one in six Americans and 925 million people worldwide do not have regular access to food. Furthermore, food waste is not only that, but also entails a waste of land, water, energy, and, as is the case for the meat and dairy industry, of animal lives (Gunders, 2012). Agricultural practices in the US are incredibly harmful to the environment, so at least that harm should not happen in vain (“Impacts of Industrial Agriculture”).

Food is thrown out at every step during its lifetime from farm to fork, and to some extent this waste is unavoidable. For example, unfavorable weather or disease can damage crops to the extent that they cannot be harvested, and some part of food, like pits and bones, are not edible at all. It becomes a problem, however, when perfectly edible food is bypassed during harvest because it lacks a particular shape or color, or when it is discarded in grocery stores because its “Sell by” date is approaching.

Though food is wasted during production, transportation, storage, processing, and in retail, by far most food is wasted at the consumer level, in households and in restaurants. In 2008, 86 billion pounds of food was wasted in restaurants, compared to 43 billion pounds wasted in stores. Meanwhile, American families waste about 25% of the food they purchase, which results in a loss of $1,365-$2,275 annually. This is partly due to oversized portions in restaurants, and lack of effective meal planning in homes (Gunders, 2012). But aside from that, one of the leading causes of premature food disposal in households is confusion regarding expiration dates. The “Sell by” or “Best by” dates printed on food items are merely suggestions of a product’s quality, not of whether or not it is safe to eat. The dates are neither regulated by law, nor are they standardized, so companies make up their own rules as to what dates to print. Consumers, however, are understandably misled with regard to these dates, taking them to mean that food is no longer safe to eat, and so they toss the food (“The Dating Game”, 2013).



Gunders, Dana. Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. Rep. National Resources Defense Council, Aug. 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.

"Impacts of Industrial Agriculture." Sustainable Table. GRACE Communications Foundation, n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.

"The Dating Game." NRDC. National Resources Defense Council, Sept. 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.