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Dr. Bill's Commentaries

Feast or famine   (November 27, 2009)

If you live in the United States, there's a fairly high chance you ate a lot of turkey yesterday, on Thanksgiving Day. (There's also a chance you'll be eating turkey leftovers for the next few days!) It's been a holiday tradition to stuff oneself with food for Thanksgiving, and there are more holidays coming up that traditionally will be spiced with lots of food.

Sadly, a lot of this food is wasted. A recent publication, The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact found that US per capita food waste has increased progressively since 1974 by about half. The authors estimate the food waste to be more than 1400 kcal per person per day or 150 trillion kcal per year, and they speculate that the progressive increase of food waste suggests that the obesity epidemic has been the result of "increased food availability and marketing with Americans being unable to match their food intake with the increased supply of cheap, readily available food."

Another recent publication, An analysis of a community food waste stream, pointed out that food waste is a significant portion of the waste stream in industrialized countries. The authors evaluated one county in the United States (in upstate New York) several years ago, and found that 27,240 tons of municipal solid waste were generated within the county in a year; of those tons, an estimated 10,204 tons of food waste was produced; some was donated, composted or recycled, but 7,348 tons were wasted -- and most of the food waste was sent to the landfill.

Can the amount of wasted food be decreased? Donations and recycling may help somewhat, but until all the players (farmers, processors, food service managers, and consumers) have more awareness of the problem, and until people demand change, I doubt that any substantive reduction is likely. It's sad that while parts of the world worry about malnutrition and famine, people in the developed countries have this entirely different worry: the ethical dilemma of destroying foods, and the harmful environmental impact of wasted food products.

Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving. Please plan to eat all the leftovers.

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Dr. Bill Quick began writing at HealthCentral's diabetes website in November, 2006. These essays are reproduced at D-is-for-Diabetes with the permission of HealthCentral.

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