America is certainly the land of plenty. This country has been blessed with an overabundance of natural resources and some of the world's most fertile agricultural land. However, every year millions of tons of food is wasted. According to a new study published in the journal, Environmental Science & Technology, the amount of food wasted in the US each year is equivalent to wasting approximately 350 million barrels of oil.
The US Department of Agriculture estimates that about 27 percent of food is wasted in the US each year. This would be more than enough to feed a number of starving nations. Some of the most wasted foods include fats & oils (33%), dairy products (32%), eggs (31%), and vegetables (25%).
Of course many of these items are perishable and need to be eaten soon after harvest. Therefore, much of the waste stems from problems with distribution — getting the fresh produce to the consumer before expiration. However, a substantial problem lies within the consumption itself. Restaurants and individuals who buy these foods often do not eat all of them. For example, restaurants are notorious for hauling huge trash bags full of discarded food to the dumpster every night. And what about every half-eaten plate at the dinner table? It all adds up.
The new study puts emphasis on the relationship of food and energy. Over the past half century, agricultural productivity has increased dramatically thanks in large part to the adoption of new technologies and inputs (chemical fertilizers), which are all based on fossil fuels. This has led to substantially higher yields through much less human labor. This agricultural transformation, from human and animal-powered to mechanical power, has left the food industry entirely dependent on fossil fuels.
In an age when this country is looking for ways to conserve its energy resources, greater awareness of the food-energy relationship must be created. The newest estimate from March of 2010 says that the United States uses about 16 percent of its energy consumption to produce food. This includes its cultivation, transportation, processing, sale, storage, and preparation. The study estimates that the amount of food wasted represents about two percent of annual energy consumption in the US, which is far from trivial.
The study, written by Amanda D. Cuellar and Michael E. Webber of the University of Texas at Austin, aims to shine a light on the economic impact of wasted food in the form of energy lost. Other economic impacts may be disposal costs for municipal waste managements. The lesson taken from this study is to be mindful of the food you eat. For every piece of food thrown in the garbage, it is more than just the food that is being thrown away.