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American Wasteland

By Megan Gross
On March 24, 2011

More than 150 billion pounds of food, which amounts to about $250 billion, is wasted annually in the United States according to author Jonathan Bloom.

For almost two years, Bloom researched this growing problem to publish his book titled "American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It)."

Bloom was invited to Toledo as a guest speaker for a series hosted by UT's Urban Affairs Center Tuesday at Augsburg Lutheran Church. The goal of the Urban Affairs Center is to "enhance economic mentality and way of life."

Bloom said low prices, abundance, large serving portions, superficiality, expiration dates and squeamishness are contributing factors to waste in the U.S.

Blooms latest research shows food prices account for less than 10 percent of a household's income, despite myths about prices having increased.

Bloom said food should actually cost more than it does, considering how many steps of production it has to go through.

Restaurants have taken food portion sizes to an outrageous level, according to Bloom.

"It's taken on a life of its own," he said.

Food superficiality has also been a driving factor in food waste.

"We want perfection and uniformity from our food," Bloom said, "Appearance seems to trump taste."

Because of their "deformity," he added, consumers consider bad-looking food trash without even tasting it.

Bloom said expiration dates tend to instill fear and caution in the consumer, but assures there is nothing to fear if food is a couple days old.

"The only product that the federal government requires an expiration date on is infant formula," he said.

Bloom discussed several possible solutions for food waste reduction.

He broke it down into things the government can do, and what people can do on the local level.

This includes shopping only for what is needed, serving only the amount of food consumers will eat, avoid using trays, ignore the fear of expiration dates and using leftovers.

Today, food waste has become tolerated and widespread, Bloom said. Advertising campaigns have focused on issues such as littering and recycling, which people now take to action seriously.

"We're terribly good at it," Bloom said "I believe the power of action is contagious."

UT was able to host the speaker series discussing environmental impacts on the agricultural sector with help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Research Assistant at the Urban Affairs Center and major planner of the event Jeanette Eckert said Bloom's speech will hopefully make people "enlightened as they hear not just about how much food we waste, but about the reasons why it happens and the simple, everyday things we can all do to bring that number down."

The series will continue with John Riehm of Riehm Farms on Tuesday and a "Local Food: Strategies for Jobs and Health" conference on Friday, April 15.

Bloom issued a challenge to the audience and everyone else who would hear his message.

The challenge is to buy 25 percent less food than they normally would which Bloom believes would lead to a decrease in food waste and less overeating.

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