Access Calories

I’ll eat anything because, y’know, I’m an ant. But humans, or the USDA, have a different standard. Last month the government gatekeeper of edible food (that is, anything fit for human consumption) told us* that in 2010 a full 31% of the food supply went uneaten. Maybe the road of excess doesn’t lead to the palace of wisdom after all!

Think about it. We’re talking about nearly one-third of (to quote from the report summary) “the [total] amount of edible food, postharvest, that is available for human consumption but is not consumed for any reason[,] includ[ing] cooking loss and natural shrinkage (e.g., moisture loss); loss from mold, pests, or inadequate climate control; and plate waste.” That’s 133 billion pounds of food, which the USDA estimates comes out 1,249 calories per American. Every day.

The average adult can survive comfortably on 2,000 calories per day, but let’s call it 3,000, since some can’t resist an extra donut here and there. If we round the number of Americans down to 300 million and round the number of wasted calories down to 1,000 per day, that means the total amount of wasted food in 2010 could have fed 100 million people. Let’s cut that number in half, presupposing logistical issues that make it impossible for half of that food not to be wasted. Still a lot of food for millions of hungry folks. 

According* to Feeding America, a hunger-relief charity providing food to 37 million people via a network of 200 food banks supplying 61,000 food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters, that number almost exactly coincides with the number of Americans experiencing food insecurity, which the USDA defines as lacking “access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.” So, clearly, the food is out there.

But Feeding America is fighting a war that is being lost on many battlefronts. As an example, Feeding America cites the situation with the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), “a means-tested federal program that provides food commodities at no cost to Americans in need of short-term hunger relief through emergency food providers like food banks, pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters.” Feeding American notes that commodity support for TEFAP “declined nearly 30 percent in FY2012, leading to 40 percent decline in TEFAP deliveries for food banks in 2013.”

On local fronts, organizations like Food Not Bombs*, which “recovers and shares free vegan or vegetarian food with the public without restriction in over 1,000 cities around the world,” often run into local interference* in the form of city ordinances restricting the feeding of the homeless persons or hyper-restrictive health codes.

Everyone, including the government, knows there’s a problem out there. The solution may not be simple. But if the food is available (and going to waste), the least government can do is get out of the way. With the most wealth, best technology, and most robust infrastructure of any country on the planet, surely the United States can do better than wasting a third of our food.

But like so many systemic problems in this country, this one impacts only the less fortunate. Call me a cynic, but could it be that the U.S. government doesn’t always fire on all cylinders when it’s about helping those who don’t exactly comprise a powerhouse voting or lobbying bloc? Perhaps time to serve the rich and feed the poor.

Love and formic acid,

told us—


Food Not Bombs —

run into local interference —

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