Food Waste in America & How LA is Fighting Back
Updated: Apr 21
In the United States, approximately 108 billion pounds of food is wasted annually—one-third of the global food waste. This food waste—enough to ensure no one goes hungry—is a massive producer of methane, one of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.
What is Food Waste?
When you think of food waste, what do you picture? Uneaten scraps from the dinner you had the waiter remove from the table? Moldy leftovers in the fridge that had to be thrown out (because you swore they were on the cusp of communicating with you)? Were the edges of that cheese block discolored, so you chucked it into the trash?
Food waste is classified as (a) any food product that is left uneaten, (b) crops left in the field to rot, (c) food that couldn’t be delivered or manufactured, or (d) food that was rejected by supermarkets for having “improper” color or appearance—meaning perfectly good food is discarded because it’s not aesthetically up to snuff.
American households discard about 42 billion pounds of food every year, 39 percent of annual food waste. Commercial food waste makes up the other 61 percent (66 billion pounds). Why does it matter that we’re throwing away perfectly good food? It matters because that food is enough to rid our country of food insecurity. It matters because that food rots away in landfills releasing massive quantities of methane, one of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change, into the atmosphere.
Food Insecurity in the United States
Food insecurity is defined as “the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” (Google) According to the USDA, 38.3 million Americans have experienced food insecurity at some point in their lives.
This means that there are individuals who not only cannot feed themselves, they can’t feed their families. Statistically, 9.4 million adults and 6.1 million children have very low food security. It’s a sad fact that the free or reduced-priced lunch provided by schools is often the only meal many children get.
Further research reveals that 14.8 percent of households with children experience food insecurity, while homes without children account for 8.8 percent of the food-insecure population. In a country where good food is discarded by billions of tons, it’s a travesty that anyone experiences hunger.
How Much Can One Person Eat?
According to NPR, on average, an adult American consumes 1,996 pounds of food per year. If we take 108 billion pounds of food and divide it by this number, we can see that the food we waste could feed 54,108,216 individuals yearly. As 38.3 million individuals experience food insecurity, we’re still operating at a food waste surplus to the tune of 16 million pounds. There is absolutely no reason anyone should experience
food insecurity in the United States. And yet…
What about LA County?
The state of California is responsible for 9 percent of the food waste in America, roughly 6 million tons of discarded food annually.
On November 16, 2021, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors enacted the Mandatory Organic Waste Disposal Reduction Ordinance to fight food waste and help reduce greenhouse gases. Landfills cannot contain the methane produced by decaying organic waste, so it is released into the atmosphere. With the new ordinance in place, California hopes to separate organic waste for composting purposes and help create clean renewable energy.
How You Can Help!
If you want to join the fight against food insecurity, there are many ways you can help out. You can, of course, donate to your local food bank. You can also help college students experiencing hunger by partnering up with nonprofit organizations to end food waste and hunger. Student LunchBox is a local 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that provides colleges and universities with nutritious meals to students in Los Angeles County who are struggling to feed themselves.
Founded by Karlen Nurijanyan, Student LunchBox has partnered with a team of like-minded individuals to create liaisons with local businesses to collect food and provide it to college students in Los Angeles.
Consider donating to Student LunchBox to help feed students in need. Help reduce food waste. Make a difference.
Written By Alexandra Fink
Freelance Copywriter | Proofreader
Edited by Jennifer Wyman