The Uneaten Majority

By Jean Blish Siers *
Reading over a National Resources Defense Council report today, I stumbled on this graphic.

Food Consumed Versus Food Loss

Even working daily to try to save fresh fruits and vegetables from going to waste, I found this shocking: We actually waste more fruits and vegetables than we consume! According to research from the Food and Agricultural Organization (which is part of the United Nations,) we consume only 48% of the fresh produce grown. Let that soak in a minute. If a farmer raises 100 pounds of potatoes, on average only 48 pounds of them will be eaten. The other 52 pounds will be discarded at some point in the supply chain.

The NRDC breaks down losses into five categories: Production, Post-harvest Handling and Storage, Processing and Packing, Distribution and Retail, and Consumer. According to the FAO, fruits and vegetables sustain the greatest losses in three areas:

During the production phase, up to 20% of produce is lost because of blemishes; quality standards for size, shape, and color; and transportation and labor issues. That’s the point where we gleaners can get in a field and gather what is rejected but still perfectly edible.

At the distribution and retail level, up to 12% of produce is lost. Again, cosmetic imperfections are huge. Retailers feel compelled to reject anything that doesn’t look perfect. They also feel they must overstock coolers and shelves to give a feeling of abundance, and throw out anything that doesn’t look at its freshest. An industry consultant estimates that one out of seven loads of perishables delivered to a supermarket is thrown away.

And finally, consumers (you and me!) throw out approximately 28% of our fresh produce. “Cheap” food causes us to buy more than we need or can use. We buy a bag of potatoes or apples, or a box or bag of salad greens, and can get through only a portion before they go bad. Inadequate storage causes food to spoil. Lack of meal planning leads us to impulse buy, or to buy a large amount of something and use just a little bit. We might buy an unusual item with good intentions and then let it go to waste because, well, what do you DO with kohlrabi?

Here’s the good news: A 1987 study found that folks who lived through the Great Depression and the rationing of World War II typically wasted half as much food as other age groups. So wasting food is a learned behavior. It means we can also learn how not to waste food. Hopefully it won’t take anything as dramatic as a world war to wake us up. Hopefully we can look at the environmental, economic, and moral costs of food waste and start turning the tide on loss.

*  Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator.



In the event I, or a registered family member, suffers any illness or accident requiring emergency hospitalization, medication, or other medical assistance while participating in a gleaning event, permission is given for any medical treatment which is deemed necessary and reasonable under the circumstances. I fully understand and comprehend that reasonable care will be exercised by the adult staff for this gleaning event to protect the safety of those involved. I understand that the field supervisor’s instructions must be followed at all times, and that I am responsible for any damages caused to fields, farms, or equipment by me/my family members not following these instructions.

Photos, videos, and other images in which I, or a registered family member, appear that are taken during gleanings may be used by the Society of St. Andrew for news coverage, newsletters, reports, displays, and for other print, broadcast, web, or electronic news or promotional purposes.

I do not hold the board, members, or employees of the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA,) or any volunteers liable for injury, bodily harm, accidents, or death of myself/my child during events sponsored by the Society of St. Andrew. Neither will I hold the person(s) who owns and/or operates the property from which we glean, salvage, or to which we deliver food, liable for accidents, injury, or death during the gleanings or other SoSA events.

For a PDF print version of this waiver, click here.

How the Story of the 12 Baskets is Connected to SoSA’s Name

Matthew 14:16-21

But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.

2 Kings 4:42-44

[…]the man of God […] said, “Give them to the people that they may eat.” His attendant said, “What, will I set this before a hundred men?” But he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’” So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.