on November 3, 2010
Before you even read my review of American Wasteland, I urge you to buy it. Or reserve it at your library. Or put it on your Christmas list. Just find some way to get your hands on it. Because it is truly the most compelling, entertaining, and inspiring book I've read in a long time.
I'm amazed by how comprehensive this book is. Bloom explores food waste at every step of the supply chain: from farms to processing plants to supermarkets to restaurants to cafeterias to the average American home. The amount of food that's wasted in America each and every day-while millions go hungry-is astonishing. Meanwhile, ridiculous amounts of methane are releasing into our atmosphere because of the literal tons of food in our landfills.
Bloom spent several years studying food-waste in depth, and it shows. He worked at McDonald's, a supermarket, and Orbit Energy. He traveled to Britain to meet with prominent politicians. He journeyed to California's vast farms. He ate lunch with students at elementary schools and universities alike. And he visited ordinary households to observe their food waste.
I love Bloom's dry sense of humor, which is peppered throughout the book, and I was really surprised by his upbeat tone. I expected a riveting--but dismal-- story. Instead, I found an eye-opening and hopeful narrative. The last chapter is titled "If I Were the King of the Forest," and it's full of information about drastically reducing our nation's food waste. While it's not realistic for the average consumer to expect to end waste, Bloom offers many helpful tips for cutting down on in-home waste. After finishing the book, I found myself challenging myself to use up odds and ends of food in our kitchen. I will never look at food waste the same way again!
(I did receive a free review copy of this book; however, I was not rewarded for a positive review, and all opinions are my own).
on February 15, 2011
As someone who manages my family's food inventory and stash of leftovers with an ardent zeal usually reserved for much more glamorous pursuits, I am so glad that Jonathan Bloom wrote this book!
This book is a must-read if you want to understand the sources and effects of food waste--and what you can do to reduce food waste in your life and community. Bloom extensively researched every aspect of food waste, from California lettuce fields to school lunches to the back rooms and dumpsters of supermarkets. He discusses existing solutions such as higher rates of composting and increased opportunities for gleaning (harvesting left-behind produce) from farms. His combination of journalistic research and first-hand experiences makes for convincing arguments. His sense of humor helps to make a potentially heavy and depressing topic accessible and readable.
If you're trying to reduce food waste in your own home, you'll find plenty of practical tips and advice throughout the book but especially in Chapter 8, Home Is Where the Waste Is. My family is committed to keeping our own food waste to a minimum--and I think we actually succeed--but I still found so much useful information in this book, particularly on what I can do beyond my own kitchen. Bloom's exploration of the broader social and environmental effects of food waste were especially enlightening and add an important dimension to something you might already be doing simply for budget reasons. While controlling your food budget can be an important reason for avoiding food waste and a sufficient motivation in itself, you'll find the wider ethical and environmental reasons both compelling and inspiring.
I wish everyone would read this book so that we can see a meaningful reduction in food waste. It's a big problem that is actually pretty easy to address--a rare combination and a great opportunity to make a difference!
on June 18, 2012
Bloom addresses an issue of incredible importance that most Americans rarely consider - food waste - and shows how we can impact this problem with relative ease. He covers key aspects of the food waste problem, including our culture of abundance, our obsession with perfect produce, and the ease of discarding food as trash - all of which lead to what he refers to as the "coexistence of hunger and food waste" - leading the U.S. to waste $160 billion in food annually while roughly 50 million Americans are food insecure. He also notes the environmental problems associated with food waste - greenhouse gas emissions from decaying food, consumption of limited landfill space, negative impact on groundwater, and fossil fuel consumption in the transport of food waste.
Bloom reveals a dangerous cycle regarding food: We're wasting resources by growing too much, and in the process depleting our soils, using too much fertilizer with negative environmental effects, and depleting our water supplies while we then use additional resources to haul the excess to landfills where it causes further harm to the environment while millions remain hungry. It's a cycle that we need to break - and to do so we need a change of mindset.
Bloom notes that we should think of food waste as an opportunity - and we should take action to harness food waste to feed the hungry while also improving the environment and the economy. He points out that we "devalue" food by providing large quantities of cheap, unhealthy food to our kids - thereby reinforcing the ease of discarding food and perpetuating the cycle noted above. He also shows that with our culture of excessive choice, and with supermarkets dedicated to having fully stocked produce departments at all hours - the result is excessive waste - and this problem is exacerbated by our demand for perfection and uniformity in our produce. It is therefore not surprising to learn that just ten minutes into his first day of work at a supermarket he was tasked with throwing away food.
The key message for readers: We need to step back and consider how we can create so much waste when tens of millions of Americans, and hundreds of millions around the globe, are hungry.
Bloom suggests a new normal in which supermarkets aren't stocked as fully a few minutes before closing time while offering some additional sound advice: "Stop baking so much stuff."
He closes with a list of recommendations on what he would do in an ideal world to reduce food waste, such as establishing a national food-recovery coordinator, creating a national public service campaign, and banning food waste from landfills (which I agree would have a prompt and significant impact on reducing food waste).
Bloom's book is extremely readable, and it makes the problem of food waste personal. It is a "must read" for those looking to gain knowledge of the tremendous problem of global food waste. It will inspire readers not only to think differently about food waste, but to act, and in so doing hopefully spur others to do the same to break the cycle of excessive waste which harms the environment while hindering our ability to help the needy. In short, Bloom provides insight into the need for culture change regarding the way we think about food and how much we waste - and we should embrace that change to help the needy, the environment, and ourselves.
on April 1, 2011
This is a review for the Weavers Way Coops Newsletter, so it is a bit local.
It is the first of a 3-part review, which does tell you how immensely informative the book is.
The Simplicity Dividend The Shuttle May 2011 Betsy Teutsch
American Wasteland - How America Wastes Nearly Half of Its Food - Part I
Jonathan Bloom's American Wasteland is an engaging book on a topic which is finally garnering some much-deserved attention: food waste. I've wanted to learn more about the back-story from field to my refrigerator, at which point waste is my personal responsibility, and Bloom is the perfect tour guide. Because of the declining cost of food relative to American incomes, food has become devalued. Hence food waste is no longer considered sinful or just plain stupid, but rather a problem solver of what to do with our excess.
Be warned, despite Bloom's droll wit, amusing anecdotes, and endearing asides, his story is not pretty. From production to plate, Americans waste almost half of our food supply. He takes us through our country's food system, from farm to restaurant or supermarket, and ultimately into the home of the consumer. Us. Much is wasted at each juncture, until in the end, we toss perfectly good food for reasons that might make sense at the time, but when analyzed, seem entirely avoidable.
Industrial farming is a high risk, low profit margin business. Imperfect produce is increasingly rejected by marketers in an attempt to match the elegant abundance of Whole Foods. The upscaling of expectation results in vast quantities of perfectly edible harvested food going straight to dumpsters. Some farms plow crops under rather than investing in harvesting them if they are subpar. Or sometimes, the migrant labor we depend on for harvesting is simply not available, and the crops rot.
Because such a large volume of our produce is grown in ginormous farms in Watsonville, California, it is hard to find enough local demand for so much food. Factory rejects overwhelm the local food recovery non-profits. While a small percentage is composted, most processing mistakes are junked. Produce is too perishable to be sold as factory seconds, and brand-consciousness would preclude companies from allowing "flawed" merchandise to be marketed, anyway. Bloom emphasizes that these flaws have nothing to do with food quality, just with appearance. Sad indeed.
Bloom is a storyteller at heart, and working undercover in a supermarket produce section provided him with vivid insider observations. I cheered for the subversive produce pro who, offended by instructions to toss perfectly good tomatoes, sorted the perfect from the imperfect, combining two dumpster-destined clamshell boxfuls into one attractive batch. Thus he only threw out bruised vegetables. If a supervisor knew, that employee could have been in big trouble, even though common sense would suggest that it's good for the grocery store to sell more, right? The saddest of Bloom's observations is how even he, a crusader against wanton food waste, eventually stopped perceiving the imperfect produce they threw out as food. Throwing it away became normal.
Supermarket food is marked with dates. If the Sell By date is approaching, some stores toss is before. These dates might also say "Best By" or "Eat By", thoroughly confusing. No one knows what the hell these mean. Most consumers imagine something dangerous will happen if they don't abide by these somewhat arbitrary dates. Hence food is discarded rather than upsetting the customers, even though its quality is still fine. No discounting of such product at chain groceries - same concern with degrading brand quality. And no letting employees take it. Nope, to the dumpster it goes.
Next time you eat in a chain restaurant you might want to repress Bloom's reporting, since it's mighty depressing. Eating establishments throw out immense amounts of prepared foods each night. Some restaurants discard them out more frequently than that. The worst wasters are buffet spreads, because their business model is based on extensive choice available the entire time the restaurant is open for business. Employees are not allowed to eat the leftovers, nor are customers allowed to take theirs home. Smaller locally-owned restaurants are more food frugal, often using leftover prepared foods in new, creative ways, just like home cooks. Waste, after all, represents the bottom line, and well-run restaurants attempt to minimize the amount of money they throw away.
Weavers Way, happily, gets exemplary marks for minimizing food waste. We sell or give away food with expiration dates close at hand. We have a discount produce bin which shoppers check out, inspiration for many a soup or banana bread, I'm sure. Kim Spellman-Hall, our Chestnut Hill manager, outlines our protocols:
* Items are marked down as they get close to the expiration date - bakery, dairy, meat, seafood, and prepared foods.
* Produce items are used in our prepared soups and salads.
* If the kitchen can't use some of the produce items we donate to several food banks which pick up seven days a week.
* Damaged items and unsold marked-down expired items also go to food banks.
* We compost all produce trimmings and rotten items and have a service that picks up animal fat from our meat department.
* The only items that get pitched are moldy things that can't be composted. We even have someone who will pick these up for their pig.
* The food banks are so appreciative so it's a win-win for everyone!
This nearly zero-waste policy is something for Weavers Way shoppers take great pride and comfort in, knowing that our coop values food and makes every possible effort to avoid destroying it. I am thrilled to learn of this virtue-added benefit of membership.
One of the chief take-aways from Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff is how much waste occurs in the supply chain, something about which the end consumer is entirely (and happily) oblivious. Jonathan Bloom does a great job of spotlighting the food chain. He includes a lot of data, but it's his stories which will stick with you.
This is one of a three-part review. Bloom also lays out encouraging examples of waste reduction and food recovery, which I will feature in Part II. The third installment will focus on our home-based waste along with strategies for avoiding all the accumulation with which we are all intimately familiar. Send me your stories!
Betsy blogs at [...] . She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
on January 1, 2013
I have been trying to organize a non-profit corporation for the re-distribution of unused food in the St. Louis area. I intend to use this corporation as a vehicle to create an "after school" club for high school students. The idea is to teach them to learn to think through and create a business plan, learn to determine what resources they need to run such a company, source the necessary network of people and materials, and then launch the company, with a keen eye on steering it once it has left port. This book provides a very organized justification for this project, and it nicely referenced. It will be a required "read" for any student who wishes to participate in this project. It is refreshing to learn that there are like-minded people in the world, and the resources found in this wonderful book will be helpful to anyone interested in moving the ball forward. Thank you, Mr. Bloom.