How much food did you leave behind on your plate at Dewick this afternoon? Was it just your banana peel or the bones from your chicken wings? Or did you take a few too many spicy fries and overestimate how much salad you were going to eat? The latter is an occurrence that happens far too often, according to Jonathan Bloom, and we should all be trying our hardest to cut down on our food waste before it is too late.
Bloom’s new book, “American Wasteland” (2010), subtitled “How America Throws Away Nearly Half Of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It),” puts forth a shocking statistic, but Bloom insists on its truthfulness: Each and every day, he says, Americans throw away enough food to fill the Rose Bowl, the football stadium in Pasadena, Calif. Additionally, each American individually discards half a pound of food per day.
If these statistics are not jarring enough, consider the fact that U.S. food waste has nearly doubled since 1974.
Although it may seem contradictory that the United States, the country with a skyrocketing obesity problem, also throws away too much food, Bloom argues that the two concepts actually go hand in hand. The past 30 years or so have seen an intense “devaluing” of food, as Bloom calls it — so much that, nowadays, very few of us actually know where our food comes from or how it gets onto our plates. This, he says, leads to a blatant lack of respect for the food we eat.
This devaluing of food manifests itself in a few different ways. Bloom interviewed a number of people who lived through the Great Depression and World War II. He discovered that they had learned to appreciate food as a result of their experiences; due to the food scarcity during the era, many scrimped and saved every bit of food they could. In marked contrast, though there is still a considerable population of hungry people within the United States today, most Americans have never known true hunger. It thus becomes easy to take a constant supply of food for granted.
Establishments like Costco and Sam’s Club — which encourage their customers to buy in bulk — feed this mentality. If we buy dinner rolls in packs of 36 or pork chops in packs of nine, the value of each individual item declines, making us more inclined either to eat too much or to throw excess food away.
Bloom’s writing style is playful, humorous and informative. Food waste is clearly an issue he cares a lot about, and he inserts many anecdotes from his own experiences and those of interviewees regarding the importance of cutting back our waste, either by consuming more of our food or serving smaller portions in the first place.
Despite its strong argument, the book is a bit of a hodgepodge. There are distinct chapter subjects, but anecdotes are placed at random, sometimes unrelated to the title or heading. This style turns the book from a singular unified story into, instead, a barrage of facts and anecdotes — albeit informative ones.
Bloom ultimately plays the blame game and shows no shame in holding restaurants and the food service industry accountable for a large part of our food−waste problem. Restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory come under scrutiny for their expansive menus and gargantuan portion sizes. The greater the number of items that appear on a restaurant’s menu, Bloom says, the more likely the establishment is to be prone to waste.
Since restaurants often feel obligated to have items on the menu that appeal to every potential customer, their inventories must be extensive. This frequently leads to restaurants having to throw away a lot of food at the end of the day.
Interspersed among his anecdotes, interviews and cold hard facts, Bloom offers advice for trimming back the reader’s personal waste. He suggests everything from reusing the crumbs at the bottom of a bag of potato chips to make breading for chicken to merely reducing the size of our dinner plates from 12 inches to 10 inches, as less space means less potential for food to go uneaten.
“American Wasteland” serves as both an advice manual on how to curb our thriftless nature and a cautionary tale about what will happen if our wasteful habits continue. If not a completely cohesive work, it is nonetheless a compelling and eye−opening read.