Emerging from post-Thanksgiving stupor, lamenting not so much the turkey as, perhaps, the excess, the curious among us might wonder how many calories we consumed on this national day of planned overeating. For most of us, though, the more pressing post-Thanksgiving question is how many we wasted.
Scandalously, Americans squander tons of food every day -- as much as 40% of what's produced, by some estimates (http://tiny.cc/…). On Thanksgiving, I suspect (although I could not find statistics on point) Americans may actually toss away a smaller percentage than on other days. On Thanksgiving, the food banks go out of their way to feed surplus food to the hungry. Householders refrigerate their leftovers for the turkey lasagnas and turkey-noodle casseroles to come.
But a smaller percentage of a greatly expanded one-day diet can still add up to a lot of tossed-away food. And so I was pleased to see in the days before Thanksgiving some renewed attention to yet another source of American food waste -- the prejudice on the part of retailers and consumers against misshapen but otherwise perfectly safe and edible fruits and vegetables.
I first became aware of this species of waste in a conversation with California fruit and vegetable grower A.G. Kawashima (http://tiny.cc/…). It was one of the things that motivated him to get involved in helping his local food bank.
An excellent summary of the situation appeared in the New York Times before Thanksgiving under the headline, "Getting Ugly Produce Onto Tables So It Stays Out of Trash" (http://tiny.cc/…). The story focuses on attempts at solutions.
One man in San Francisco has started a company, Imperfect Produce, that specializes in selling crooked eggplants and other "cosmetically challenged" vegetables and fruits. Another Californian uses social media to promote ugly food and launched a petition to persuade Whole Foods and Walmart to sell the stuff.
But the shopper's bias against anything that looks less than perfect is hard to overcome. One store's pilot program to sell imperfect food has already ended, the Times reports, and neither Whole Food nor Walmart has been swayed by the petition.
"Anyone who has a backyard garden can understand that food grows in fun and funky ways -- the notion that it is uniform is just a fallacy," an author of a book on food waste tells the Times.
It's encouraging that more and more Americans are aware of the food-waste problem. Still, getting them to buy twisted, disproportioned food -- and stop throwing away so much of what they've bought -- remains a challenge. Hopefully in the Thanksgivings ahead we will be able to add progress against food waste to our list of things to be thankful for.
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