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Wednesday, 13 July 2016 06:43

While Hunger and Poverty Persist in US, Half of Edible Food Is Thrown Away

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016july13 rottingfoodInstead of letting so much food rot in the US, why don't we feed people who need it? (Photo: Steven Depolo)

The World Hunger Education Service offers a number of revealing details about food insecurity in the United States:

In 2014, 14.0 percent of households (17.5 million households, approximately one in seven), were food insecure....

In 2014, 5.6 percent of U.S. households (6.9 million households) had very low food security....

Children were food insecure at times during the year in 9.4 percent of households with children. These 3.7 million households were unable at times during the year to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children....

Rates of food insecurity were substantially higher than the national average for households with incomes near or below the Federal poverty line, households with children headed by single women or single men, and Black and Hispanic households....

To provide some context, according to Poverty USA, the poverty rate in 2014 was worse than the poverty rate prior to the 2008 economic collapse:

In 2014, 47 million people lived in Poverty USA. That means the poverty rate for 2014 was 15%.

The 2014 poverty rate was 2.3 percentage points higher than in 2007, the year before the 2008 recession.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the number of people in poverty has remained unchanged from the previous year’s poverty estimate.

These sobering statistics counter the false notion that the US is the "land of plenty" for everyone. Meanwhile, the Guardian US has now investigated how much food is wasted in the United States before it even reaches consumers -- and its findings are shocking. The newspaper estimated that nearly half of all the produce grown and processed in the US is never eaten. There are a variety of reasons for this, from "past date" food thrown out at supermarkets, to restaurant waste, to food rotting in storage.

One of the most startling reasons that a significant portion of the US's food is thrown away: It does not meet the "cosmetic" standard of consumers, as assessed by growers, wholesale sellers and retail merchants:

Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a “cult of perfection”, deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.

Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards, according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials....

“It’s all about blemish-free produce,” says Jay Johnson, who ships fresh fruit and vegetables from North Carolina and central Florida. “What happens in our business today is that it is either perfect, or it gets rejected. It is perfect to them, or they turn it down. And then you are stuck.”

In essence, the flawed cosmetic appearance of much food results in the destruction of edible, nutritional sustenance for people in need, not just in the US but also abroad. Indeed, if the food that is currently discarded were actually used, we could feed not only those who are hungry in the US, but in many other nations as well. The World Food Hunger Programme claims, "Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That's about one in nine people on earth."

What does it reveal about a country when its food needs to be shiny and shaped proportionately, lest it become refuse -- while the same country barely acknowledges the millions of hungry and malnourished people among us?

Plus, we must acknowledge that food prices would likely drop for everyone if there were an increased supply of produce, and people could buy "less perfect" produce and agricultural products for even cheaper prices. This would particularly be advantageous for people who live in poverty. Nutrition is a human right, and it shouldn't be driven by the marketing imperative of selling "blemish-free produce," as the Guardian US calls it. This is a system that places a value on the profitability of food over the value of people. It is a system whose goal is not to feed a nation, but rather to lure the eye of the consumer with the perfectly contoured pear.

A separate article in the Guardian US today indicates that the rest of the world is not far behind the US in wasting food:

Campaigners [for laws to discard less food] say that a third of the world’s food is lost between the farm and the plate, at an economic cost of $940bn a year.

Food waste is thought to consume a quarter of all water used by agriculture, and to occupy a cropland space the size of China. It also generates around 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than Europe’s share of global emissions.

However, the report also offers hope, in the form of a new French law that prohibits supermarkets from throwing away food. One can only hope that this is a first step that will reach across the Atlantic Ocean and launch a successful movement to confront food waste in the United States.

Not to be reposted without permission of Truthout.