Jonathan Bloom

American Wasteland

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American Wasteland Summary

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American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) is a work of non-fiction investigative journalism by Jonathan Bloom about food waste in America. Bloom considers how America’s culture of excess has led to food shortages for the poor and obesity for the rich, and the subsequent eco and sustainable food movements that have cropped up to help combat these problems. He also looks at some of the possible solutions that could help America waste less and become a more equitable place for people to eat.

Bloom’s book is full of frightening statistics about food waste. He begins by identifying the central problem of the book – Americans are throwing perfectly good, edible food away in huge quantities every single day. The numbers are staggering. In total, Americans throw away enough food to fill the Rose Bowl stadium each day, about 90,000 seats worth of wasted food. This calculation is based on a conservative estimate of individual food waste, which suggests that Americans throw away about a half pound of food a day, per person. According to Bloom, all of this wasted food adds up.

Bloom describes some of the problems occurring in food waste, admitting that it is a complicated problem. Food waste is all about our individual decisions as we shop, eat, and save food. Americans have large refrigerators, and food comes in enormous containers, despite the fact that it is unlikely a family can consume the amount of food in said containers before the product goes bad. Because of this, Bloom estimates that we throw away between one quarter and one half of the food we buy, wasting thousands of dollars a year on food that someone else could have eaten.

Bloom acknowledges, too, that a huge part of this problem stems from corporate farms and the food industry itself, which is either ignorant of or unconcerned by the ecological perils that come from so much waste. Produce is thrown away by the tons each day by farms and wholesalers, not because it is bad, but because it is not attractive enough to market to consumers. Bloom talks about how American culture around food has changed in the last few decades, and how food waste, which used to be an atrocity, is now considered normal, even acceptable by most people. Bloom writes about Americans’ lack of food knowledge in the modern era – while before Americans would can and preserve excess produce or use leftovers to create other meals, now perfectly good food is tossed in the trash. This change in culture is partly due to capitalism, changes in farm culture, grocery store marketing, and the hectic nature of everyday life, among other things. This lack of food knowledge, Bloom writes, also contributes to the obesity epidemic in America.

In order to get inside and see firsthand the world of food waste, Bloom takes a job at a grocery store chain, a major fast food restaurant, and volunteers with a food recovery group. He also talks to a number of scholars and experts on the subject of food and food shortages in America, including Alice Waters, Amartya Sen, and Brian Wansink, among others. Through his firsthand experience and discussions with experts, Bloom attempts to find the underlying causes of why we waste, how and when it happens most, and what we can do to change it.

Though often shocking and sometimes dire, Bloom’s book isn’t without hope. He ends American Wasteland with a discussion of how changes have been made for the better in years past, including changes in the current generation around normalizing recycling.

Jonathan Bloom is a journalist and food waste expert living in Durham, North Carolina. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications, and is the creator of the blog Wasted Food. His journalism led him to write his first book, American Wasteland, which won the IACP Green Matters Award. Bloom has worked with the United Nations, Harvard, and the Natural Resources Defense Council on issues of food waste and food inequality worldwide. He regularly gives talks on the subject of food waste at conferences and universities.