Consider the life cycle of apples from the time they are grown in an orchard until they are consumed by households.
Loss-Adjusted Food Availability Data for Fresh Apples, Per Capita, 2005
Start with the people picking apples. They make split second decisions about which apples meet the farm’s size, color and overall appearance criteria. Apples are placed into boxes and trucked to distribution centers where boxes are opened for inspections. If too many of the apples fail visual scrutiny, the whole truckload may be rejected. If the driver doesn’t know where the nearest food bank is, all the apples may be trashed so he can continue to his next truckload pickup.
At the grocery store, the produce manager wants to makes sure the store’s displays are perpetually full. An empty display reflects poorly on the store as customers expect visions of abundance in the produce aisle. That is why there is extra produce in the back to make sure they can regularly fill displays. Some produce rots before it can be set out and some individual fruits or vegetables are damaged and will not be used. This is thrown away as well.
The largest amount of produce waste happens in the home, though. About one-quarter of all food we buy, one out of four bags of groceries, ends up wasted. We don’t use all the cilantro or basil before they go turn brown. Strawberries mold, tortilla chips go stale and leftovers end up forgotten in the back of the fridge.
The good news is that much of this food waste is avoidable at each stage of the food supply chain. Looking at food waste from a slightly different perspective will help reduce it. I’ll write more about solutions to food waste in future posts.