The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact
Rising food prices and fear of shortages have lead to calls to increase agricultural production. However, according to a study by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, reduction of food waste can play a significant role in addressing these issues.
The 2009 study, “The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact,” is based on data from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization and provides an assessment of the U.S. food supply and consumption. It was published in PLoS ONE, a peer-reviewed, open-access online publication.
Since the 1970s the per capita U.S. food supply has progressively increased; during the same period there has been a steady climb in obesity rates. The authors derived the amount of U.S. food waste by comparing food supply data with the calculated food consumed by the population. Their findings include:
- In 1974 approximately 900 kilocalories per person per day was wasted. In 2003 the amount of waste had increased more than 50%, to 1,400 kcal per person per day, the equivalent of 150 trillion kcal per year.
- Solid food waste accounts for 30% of the total wasted food energy.
- Food waste has increased from approximately 30% of the available food supply in 1974 to almost 40% in 2003.
- The progressive increase of food waste suggests that the increase in U.S. obesity rates is the result of increased food availability, low prices and marketing.
- Assuming that agriculture utilizes about 70% of the freshwater supply, 25% of total freshwater use is accounted for by wasted food.
- On average, producing 1 kcal of food requires 3 kcal of fossil fuel energy; food waste thus accounts for approximately 300 million barrels of oil per year, about 4% of U.S. oil consumption in 2003.
Tags: food, obesity, water, nutrition, fossil fuels
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases study titled "The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related New York Times article titled "Hunger in U.S. at a 14-Year High."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.