"Celebrating America often goes hand-in-hand with celebrating its food," John Oliver said in Sunday's Last Week Tonight report. The problem is that Americans waste a mind-blowing amount of that food – for a variety of unacceptable reasons.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, "as much as 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. never gets eaten" and "Americans throw away $165 billion worth of food every year," roughly "20 pounds per person every month." That's enough waste to annually fill 730 football stadiums. How is that possible in a country where so many go hungry? A recent USDA report found that "in 2013, 49.1 million people lived in food-insecure households."
"At a time when the landscape of California is shriveling up like a pumpkin in front of a house with a lazy dad, it seems especially unwise that farmers are pumping water into food that ends up being used as a garnish for landfills," Oliver cracks.
Many problems originate in the supermarket. "Use By" and "Sell By" dates can be confusing to consumers, leading to fear-based waste; stores routinely overstock produce because of impulse buying – if there's only one of an item left, no one will buy it. It's also expensive for small businesses and restaurants to donate food because tax breaks for charitable donations have become so irregular in the U.S.
"Small businesses should get tax incentives to donate food, so we have to find a way to pass that," Oliver says. "But even if we do, it will be one small part of what needs to be a much bigger solution – from resolving to eat uglier fruit to taking expiration dates with a pinch of salt to no longer worrying about getting sued by high-powered lawyers representing the hungry."