American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) is an odorous odyssey through our fouled-up food chain. From farm to market to plate to garbage can, journalist Jonathan Bloom exposes a culture that promotes a grotesque amount of waste.
According to Bloom, we produce more than 590 billion pounds of food in the U.S. each year, and then throw nearly half of it away. Why? Because we grow too much, buy too much, order too much, serve too much, and think too little about how it all adds up.
Oh, and we prefer unblemished fruits and vegetables that are uniform in shape and size, so tons of perfectly edible produce winds up getting tossed–that is, if it even gets harvested in the first place.
Scarcity scares us even more than imperfect produce. So, shelves stay fully stocked round the clock and all-you-can-eat buffets never stop getting topped up. We expect every imaginable foodstuff to be available to us all day long, all year round.
Some of our discarded food does find its way to the soup kitchens and food pantries, and a bit of it gets composted, though not nearly enough. A small percentage gets reclaimed by dumpster divers, the freegan foragers who find treasure in others’ trash.
But a horrendous amount of edible food doesn’t get salvaged. It’s a carbon-squandering cycle, in which fossil fuels are used to grow food that goes uneaten and gets sent to the landfill, where it rots and emits greenhouse gases.
Bloom, who launched the blog wastedfood.com in 2005, spent the past five years exploring all these aspects of our food chain. The end result is a book that’s both distressing and heartening; as painful as it is to read about such epic excess, Bloom takes great pains to emphasize the many ways we could make a dent in all this needless, heedless dumping.
American Wasteland makes a compelling case for ramping down our rampant consumption–a message that’s near and dear to both Eating Liberally and Kitchen Table Talks. So we’re teaming up to co-host a book party for Jonathan Bloom in New York City this Sunday, December 12th. This event will also serve as the New York City debut for Kitchen Table Talks–a regularly held public discussion on the food system that began in San Francisco.
Jonathan’s coming all the way from North Carolina to read from his book, answer questions, and talk trash with environmental journalist Elizabeth Royte, author of Garbage Land and Bottlemania, and Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Food Safety and Sustainability for the Batali-Bastianich Hospitality Group.