Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=228197
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Lauren Larson/MEDILL REPORTS 

Data from the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that fruits and vegetables go to waste more than any other food group. Over half of the produce purchased in the U.S., Australia, and Canada is not consumed.


Americans are buying more produce, but why aren’t they eating it?

by Lauren Larson
Feb 20, 2014


A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council found American families waste 25 percent of the food they purchase. The environmental nonprofit group has encouraged Americans to look hard at their own grocery carts and evaluate how much produce goes to waste. But Americans are still buying more fruits and vegetables than they are eating.

“Planning meals, using shopping lists, buying from bulk bins, and avoiding impulse buys or marketing tricks that lead to overbuying can all help reduce the amount of food discarded at the household level,” said Dana Gunders, a project scientist with the council.

Lots of consumers may recognize themselves in the study. Andersonville sales associate Brenda Dohlstrom, 39, estimated that she throws away about a quarter of the produce she buys. Dohlstrom is the enthusiastic owner of a BluApple, a small device that sits in a refrigerator and absorbs the ethylene gas that causes fruits and vegetables to rot. Even so, Dohlstrom confesses that she sometimes forgets to buy the refill packs.

“I just threw away some food yesterday,” Dohlstrom said sheepishly. “A butternut squash, and half a red pepper from the back of the fridge.”

Adam Gillette, 24, a consultant at Deloitte, has to plan his produce purchases carefully because he travels weekly for work. Gillette estimates he eats about 80 percent of the produce he buys.

“I buy a really small amount of food on Thursday; I cook two meals and then I’m out the door on Monday,” Gillette said. The Natural Resource Defense Council has encouraged Americans to keep foods beyond their expiration dates, which it argues are unregulated and inconsistent. But Gillette throws food away as soon as the expiration date rolls around. “I’m really weird about food safety,” he said.

Hyde Park resident Joseph Barrett, 26, says that his limited budget keeps him from throwing out food.

“As my income is relatively tight, my ability to waste what I purchase is practically nonexistent,” Barrett said. “The only thing I feel guilty about is the small amount of produce I eat. My mother would be disappointed.”

Barrett is annoyed when stores force shoppers to purchase inedible parts of produce such as stems and skins, which he has to pay for but inevitably wind up in landfills. Instead he thinks farmers should use them to enrich the soil.

 
Data analytics specialist Anna Tenutta, 24, said part of the blame lies with food retailers. She expressed frustration at grocery stores for selling produce in impractically large quantities. “Like kale,” Tenutta said, “I will never use that much kale.”