Inside the Global Effort to Keep Perfectly Good Food Out of the Dumpster
The story behind one of the biggest food waste incidents in history, and why it’s not easy to eradicate waste from the food system
Since the day my grandparents moved to the Bronx in the 1970s, they had never thrown food out. They were frugal, but not wasteful.
To my parents, food waste was one of those frustrating things we often had to explain away. In the Bronx, you could get a bag of groceries, but you could pick one out of a bin. And the bins were scattered around the neighborhood, not in one big pile.
In time, I began to understand why my grandparents were so careful about what they put in their mouths. Growing up in New Jersey, I ate mostly processed, industrial meals made with corn syrup, corn flakes, and animal fats. As much as we loved the bounty of the local farmers’ market, my diet was made of cheap, white floury stuff and sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.
I remember thinking, “Those aren’t fruits and vegetables; they’re just vegetables.”
And I hated those vegetables. I hated how they looked, how they smelled, how they tasted. I hated vegetables with big heads, like cauliflower and broccoli, and small, stringy ones, like kale and collard greens. I hated the sight of them, because I was eating them without even noticing.
At the very same time, I craved those fruits and vegetables. They were sweet, and they sat in a box while the box remained in the trash. All I could think to do was eat more vegetables. I wanted to feel less hungry.
I felt bad for my grandparents, who had a different relationship to their food. Because of their frugal habits, they never threw away a single box, bottle, can, or jar of food, and had no idea of the waste that went on in their kitchens.
But like me, they weren’t aware of just how much food they were eating.