American Wasteland

American Wasteland chronicles how we waste food from farm to fork and examines the impact of our squandering. With an upbeat tone, the book offers suggestions on how we—as a nation and as individuals—can trim our waste. A word of warning: It’s a book that forces you to reconsider your approach to food. Because once you’re looking for food waste, it’s hard to miss.

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An eye-opening account of what used to be considered a sin—the willful waste of perfectly edible food.

That waste, writes journalist Bloom, is enough to fill the 90,000-seat Rose Bowl stadium each day—by a conservative estimate, half a pound of food per American per day. “How we reached the point where most people waste more than their body weight…each year in food is a complicated tale,” he writes, and so it is. Food waste is a matter of individual decisions. We determine when and what to buy, stocking too-large refrigerators and too-capacious pantries with oversized containers of food that cannot possibly be consumed before they go bad. By Bloom’s calculation, anywhere from a quarter to half of the food we buy is tossed away, costing hundreds and even thousands of dollars a year. Yet many of the decisions that result in that waste are beyond our control, made somewhere between farm and fork by corporate powers that, it would appear, consider waste a species of planned obsolescence. The environmental results alone are appalling, writes the author. It takes 15 tons of water to produce a kilogram of red meat, to say nothing of the energy, land and carbon emissions produced by large-scale agriculture. Bloom is full of condemnation without being unduly scolding, though he seems dour and dire at times: “Limiting waste requires patience, effort, and food knowledge,” he writes. “While these used to be common American traits, that is less true today.” Completely eliminating food waste is an unlikely scenario, he writes, but reducing it is not—it can be taught, just as the present generations have been taught, quite successfully, to recycle.

Refreshingly, Bloom offers solutions as well as jeremiads, and not a minute too soon—an urgent, necessary book.
Since the Great Depression and the world wars, the American attitude toward food has gone from a "use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without" patriotic and parsimonious duty to an orgy of "grab-and-go" where food's fetish and convenience qualities are valued above sustainability or nutrition. Journalist Bloom follows the trajectory of America's food from gatering to garbage bin in this compelling and finely reported study, examining why roughly half of our harvest ends up in landfills or rots in the field. He accounts for every source of food waste, from how it is picked, purchased, and tossed in fear of being past inscrutable "best by" dates. Bloom's most interesting point is psychological: we have trained ourselves to regard food as a symbol of American plenty that should be available at all seasons and times, and in dizzying quantities. "Current rates of waste and population growth can't coexist much longer," he warns and makes smart suggestions on becoming individually and collectively more food conscious "to keep our Earth and its inhabitants physically and morally healthy. Publisher’s Weekly
In one of the twenty-first century’s most appalling ironies, developed nations throw away massive amounts of food while people in remote lands starve. Journalist Bloom documents some specifics about the nature of wasted food in the twenty-first century and calls into question both the economic efficiency and the morality of such profligacy. He finds food crops lying rotting in fields owing to intentional social policy, economic vagaries, and sheer ignorance. In restaurants, portion sizes have ballooned under the mantras “Bigger is better” and “Would you like to supersize that?” And many Americans allow food to decay on refrigerator shelves out of carelessness, lack of meal planning, and sheer ignorance. Bloom has found some hopeful signs that this trend may be waning. Many grocery stores and restaurants dispose of surplus edibles through food pantries and similar charitable outlets. Some socially conscious farmers are trying to revive the ancient practice of allowing the poor to glean. Booklist
Bloom vividly illustrates how waste is built into our whole way of eating, from farm to table to trashcan. As he traces the problem of waste into grocery stores, buffet restaurants, school lunchrooms, and convenience stores, Bloom argues that waste was understandable (if not forgivable) during the rampant consumerism and excess that characterized the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. Nowadays, however, as Americans increasingly seek to reduce their carbon footprint, to eat and shop locally, to return to a simpler, less consumption-centered way of life, it’s time we all stopped to consider not just the food that goes into our mouths but the millions of tons that bypasses our plates entirely. And, as hunger in the United States continues to persist, finding better solutions for our leftovers is not just an economic or environmental issue, Bloom suggests. It’s a powerfully moral one. BookBrowse
Jonathan Bloom describes himself as an "accomplished eater and fledgling composter." He could also fairly describe himself as a fanatic against food waste. His book "American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It)" demonstrates that fanaticism within every chapter. The result demonstrates that fanaticism well channeled can serve as a virtue.

Bloom approaches his subject matter from multiple angles: fighting hunger, promoting environmentalism and acting ethically. It is no secret that millions of Americans (and who knows how many millions more in other nations) lack enough food, despite the gigantic amounts of food wasted from farm to plate.

Perhaps less well understood is that much of the wasted food ends up in landfills, where its decomposition yields methane gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming.

The ethical conundrums are less tangible, revolving around what Bloom calls "the often maligned dinner-table commandment: Clean your plate; there are children starving in (pick a country)."

On a literal level, Bloom recognizes that a linear relationship between wasted food on a dinner plate and starvation thousands of miles away is nonsense. And yet, he adds, "there's something to associating unfinished food with hunger, morally speaking. The essence of 'clean your plate' remains meaningful — value your food. As does the secondary message — Don't forget that some people don't get enough to eat."

After wrestling with the philosophical, Bloom, a freelance journalist in Durham, N.C., leads a tour of every imaginable link in the food chain. He explains, in massive (and sometimes repetitive) detail, food waste in the agricultural fields, packing plants, transportation chain, school cafeterias, supermarkets, restaurants, convenience stores, private kitchens (especially those with overstocked refrigerators) and even charitable redistribution centers.

The book is United States-centric. Still, Bloom manages to travel to England, where governments and private-sector businesses are combining to reduce food waste in admirable, coordinated, effective ways.

In the final chapter, Bloom offers his reform agenda, topped by three overarching changes: Establish a national food-recovery coordinator, create a national public-service campaign to raise awareness about food waste, and ban food from landfills.

In a resources section placed just before the book's index, Bloom lists Web addresses for learning more about meal planning, recipes for leftover food, safe food storage, donations of food to feed the hungry, increasing efficiency in school cafeterias and restaurants, plus less obvious topics.

The how-to nature of some sections clashes in tone with the exposé nature of other sections. Like fanatics from all realms, Bloom can come across as shrill and scolding. He is a well-informed fanatic, though, because he knows how to mine data from reliable sources, and while completing the book he immersed himself in the food-waste pipeline — working three months, for example, in the produce department of a supermarket.

It is difficult to think of most food wasters as villains. Some of them, especially restaurant and supermarket managers, seem motivated by a concern for safety of consumers — after all, some older or marred food items could cause illnesses.

Yet the wasters simultaneously seem to exhibit a lack of common sense. Minor changes in procedure, suggested by Bloom throughout the text, could minimize the probability of illnesses while feeding countless near-starving individuals residing nearby.
The Seattle Times