Every day in the United States, consumers throw out almost a pound of food each, according to new research.
Maintaining the environment while also improving diet quality is an important and challenging global issue.
The new study relies on publicly available USDA data on the roughly 150,000 tons of food per day that goes to waste.
Those with healthier diets (defined here as one higher in fruits and vegetables) may contribute more food waste.
Fruits and vegetables and mixed fruit and vegetable dishes accounted for 39 percent of food waste, followed by dairy (17 percent), meat and mixed meat dishes (14 percent), and grains and grain mixed dishes (12 percent). The data only includes self-reported food waste for individuals, not the amount of unused food that restaurants discard. "This study is the first to consider food waste as another important component of varying diet outcomes".
"We need a simultaneous effort to increase food quality as well as reduce food waste", USDA nutritionist and co-author of the study, Lisa Jahns, told The Guardian.
Soup, fruits and vegetables and mixed dishes, and other foods and dishes had the highest waste rate, at approximately 30 percent each. "Both represent significant costs to the environment and the farmers who dedicate land and resources to producing food that's meant to be eaten", the study noted.
Through their analysis, they found an interesting connection. They estimate that this food waste is equivalent too the use of 30 million acres of land every year, and 4.2 trillion gallons of irrigation water annually. It is a massive environmental and infrastructure issue-food take a lot of energy to produce, and it builds up in landfills as methane-emitting waste.
And the healthiest Americans are more at fault than others, according to the study, due to their diets high in fruits and vegetables - the most wasted foods. Data from various United States government sources also allowed the researchers to estimate the amount of agricultural amendments such as irrigation water, pesticides and fertilizers used to produce uneaten food.
The study notes that several countries, including Brazil, Germany, Sweden, and Qatar, have adopted dietary guidelines that incorporate environmental sustainability, but none include food waste as a factor. He was initially surprised to see healthy diets linked to more food waste, though after reading the paper, Hanks speculates that people eating high quality diets with more perishable foods might not be using up all the food before it spoils. The study's authors believe that education on preparing and storing fresh fruits and vegetables - as well as education on the difference between abrasion and spoilage - will be critical if we want to reduce waste.
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