Thoughts That Hurt to Think #081 – Americans Throw Away A Lot Of Food!

Last year I found myself regularly driving by a billboard I found annoying for several reasons. The message it was shouting out to all passersby was simple, and dramatic; it was also wrong, but we’ll get to that. In a single sentence, this costly advertisement said a whole bunch of things about the people paying for it aside from what they were trying to say about the rest of us.

‘Every American wastes 290 pounds of food a year.’

Well…if you have ever wondered whether or not the government is willing to lie to manipulate the population, wonder no more! All they had to do was change that message a little, and it wouldn’t have bothered me at all; but the way they worded it proved they were much more interested in drama than accuracy. That’s a scary priority for the leaders of the most powerful empire of all time to place first, but there it was in two foot tall letters.

‘Americans waste an average of 290 pounds of food a year’ may have been more accurate, but even that has the ring of manipulation to it. It still doesn’t take into account what kind of crap people in this country shove into our mouths, or the fact that most of what we eat in America can be more accurately referred to as ‘food substitutes’ than actual food. Also, there is no mention of what state that food is in when it gets tossed.

If people started eating rotten fruits and vegetables, and consuming packaged products after the expiration dates, we would have a much bigger problem on our hands than wasted food. Most of this stuff doesn’t get tossed until it is past the point of edibility, and we can’t accurately say it’s still food at that point. By then it’s trash, which is why it goes in the trash; if you eat it, you could get sick and even die.

‘Americans throw away an average of 290 pounds of trash that used to be something slightly resembling food’ doesn’t have quite the ring to it that the actual message did, but I for one would rather have a government committed to honesty than a group of leaders willing to sacrifice the truth for the sake of a catchy phrase. However…even if you look at it this way, the message is still misdirected.

Some people don’t throw away much food at all. I couldn’t say I was one of those people a decade ago, but I can say I’m one of them now. Maybe my wife is the one making sure our household doesn’t waste food like I did back then, but that doesn’t change the numbers that should be attributed to me. When it comes down to the actual math, both my wife and I fall well below the five hundred eighty pounds of food the government says we are wasting annually. We can’t be the only ones, either. After all, some of us don’t need thousands of dollars being spent on billboards to live conscientiously. In fact, those of us living conscientiously don’t see spending that kind of money on that kind of message to be a conscientious decision itself.

I’ve looked at billboard advertising in the past, mostly out of curiosity. Although I assumed the prices varied, depending on where you want your message advertised, I also figured even the cheapest spots would be spendy. I was right, on both counts; and when I saw the aforementioned billboard for the first time, I wondered how many of them had gone up around the country. Each of those purchases could have fed quite a few people for the entire time the ad ran, and improved the lives of a handful of Americans instead of setting out to shame us all.

Speaking of the hungry masses…I can’t help but wonder how homeless people felt when they saw these costly campaigns. Many of them don’t even eat as much food every year as the ad said they were throwing away, and the only reason they do make it from one day to the next is because restaurants and grocery stores are notorious for tossing food that is still edible. Much of it makes it to homeless shelters, but more of it goes in the trash; eating out of a dumpster wouldn’t be such a down on your luck cliche, if it didn’t. Of course, all that waste gets counted up and distributed among all of us when it comes time to buy billboards; but anyone with a mind to think it through realizes that the companies selling the food are really the ones wasting most of it.

We could make an argument here that shaming and bullying are great ways to get people to behave the way you want them to; but I do pay a little attention to the current social climate, and I’m pretty sure both of these methods have come under attack recently. The folks in charge haven’t gotten the memo, apparently; from gleefully announcing that they will ruin your life if you drink and drive, to accusing every single American of wasting 290 pounds of food each year, they seem to think our tax dollars are best used to shame us over these issues via billboard advertisements.

These are the same people who pay farmers to not grow food, so prices on produce can remain predictable. They spend more money on guns and bombs every year than any country ever, and they think the way to finance our nation is to rack up debt to virtually every other civilized culture in the world. We don’t see any billboards talking about how much the government wastes every year, or how presidential candidates spend enough money trying to get into office to feed every starving American for the next four years. Instead, they take our tax dollars and spend them on making us feel bad for wasting food.

A first-year psychology student who has been paying attention to their lessons would be able to explain why this advertising effort is a waste in and of itself. We don’t have any of those in residence, though; so you’ll just have to take the word of a guy who read a lot of those books and then spent a bunch of time around actual people. Much of what those books say is wrong in its way, or at least missing something; but most of the simple statements psychology has made over the years about personality and character have stood the tests of time and personal observation. People know when they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing, and habits are very hard to break. Those two pieces of knowledge are available to anybody with a little life experience, or access to any of those books I mentioned; and that’s all you really need to know to realize that all the money spent on these billboards was wasted.

Some people probably read that message, laughed and admitted silently or aloud that those numbers sounded about right to them. Then they went to the grocery store, bought enough food to last a week, and headed on home. On the way home, they realized they didn’t feel like cooking tonight. So they went to a drive thru, and set back the week of meals by a day. The next day they maybe realized they wanted something different than what they had planned, or they had to work late; it was just easier to order a pizza than cook a meal. Maybe the whole week goes on this way, pounds of healthy fruits and vegetables rotting slowly in their fridge while they fill their bellies with food substitutes; but even the leftover pizza that gets thrown away counts as food in this example, and we can see how easy it is for these folks to just assume everyone else acts this way.

But we don’t. Some of us have thought this subject through on our own, and formed shopping and eating habits that don’t waste anywhere close to a pound of food per day. Like my lovely wife, for example. She’s super special, but I don’t think she’s unique when it comes to this. A lot of people make a deliberate effort to waste as little as possible, and this public awareness campaign was nothing but a smack in the face to them.

So on one hand we have the people who know they waste a lot of food, but won’t change their behavior based on billboard announcements; and on the other we have people who listen to their conscience and don’t need the message relayed to them in letters that are two feet tall. The people that don’t know the difference between right and wrong unless they see a public service announcement spelling it out for them may be the smallest and most disturbed slice of the population pie. Even if we can reach these folks through billboards, why can’t we think of some positive way to encourage conscientious behavior instead of shaming the bad?

If food lasted forever, we’d never throw it away. It doesn’t, though; and calling it food when it’s really trash is a bit of a stretch. The last thing we want is a bunch of conservationists dying from food poisoning because they were trying to prevent waste. Why not encourage hunting, or food gardens? The former is less popular than ever in our country, while the latter is more common than in decades. If eating meat was also not very popular, I might understand this; but most people eat meat in America, while a very small portion of us hunt.

When you get rid of the parts of an animal you don’t use in the wild, scavengers and other natural solutions come along to clean up the mess. Relying on factory farms to feed us our meat has consequences none of us intend, but we all have to live with them regardless of our intentions. If a herd gets infested with disease, that means piles of tainted meat going into the trash; the corpses might get picked apart by flies in the landfills, but it won’t be nearly the efficient process they would have gone through if they had lived and died in the wild.

Is that wasted food? Should we have eaten those diseased carcasses? What exactly is the government counting, when they tally the numbers on how much food we waste? Maybe we should stop throwing numbers around, cut down on the money being spent on billboards, and just lay off the average American for once. We may not be perfect, but not all of us waste two hundred ninety pounds of food every year either.

And that’s something we can be proud of.

Thanks for reading!

All the best,

J.K. Norry
The Secret Society of Deeper Meaning
Twitter: @JayNorry

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