GreenBiz - It is one of the worst-kept secrets of the conventional foodscape: waste.


Given our collective glorification of efficiency, it is frankly startling just how wasteful we are when it comes to what and how we eat. A recent report by attorneys in the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic estimates that approximately 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is wasted, which translates into 160 billion pounds of food annually. That is more than 2 million calories for every four-person household.

There are a lot of reasons why we waste food: subsidies, which can lead to "overproduction" (an ironic term, given all the hungry people out there); social norms, which in some cultures encourage taking more than can be eaten; aesthetic standards, which require fruits and vegetables to look a certain way; infrastructure  deficiencies, which are particularly problematic in lower income countries, where storage facilities are more likely to stand in disrepair. But there is another reason, a big one: laws. Laws at the federal, state and local levels make it difficult, impossible even, to get food that would otherwise go unused to those who need it.

Ask any retail or restaurant manager about the biggest risk associated with donating food waste, and chances are their angst can be summed up with one word: liability. The perception is that if you donate food to someone and they get sick or, worse, they die, you are potentially liable for their injury. Having that responsibility hanging over your head makes throwing away food the less risky option. Jacob Gersen, Harvard Law School professor and director of the Food Law Lab, put it this way: “Often it is easier to do the wrong thing; or rather, the law has made wasting food the only thing for many restaurants.”