Invisible Elephants

27 percent. 96 billion pounds.

Those are the numbers most often associated with food waste. What frustrates me is that they’re 13 years old. Those statistics come from this 1997 study, which uses 1995 figures. Hence, the data is ready for its Bar Mitzvah!

There are a few other limitations of the study, which I’ve been railing about for almost a year. Most notably, the authors acknowledge (on page 5 of the PDF) that the study probably underestimates waste:

…estimates of retail, foodservice, and consumer food losses are likely understated due to limitations in the published studies on which these estimates were based.

As you’ve read, the USDA’s number crunchers–the Economic Research Service (ERS)–are updating the study. Yet, this will take time. Monday, an ERS economist told me it’d likely be 2009.

In the interim, allow me to provide an unofficial update. If the percentage of food we squander has stayed the same-and I have no reason to think it has gone down–we now Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins drawing, courtesy of Wikipediawaste more than 150 billion pounds of food annually.

Again, this is a rough calculation, since it doesn’t include an updated waste percentage. But still. Putting the number in perspective, our annual food waste equals the weight of 15 million elephants. Why is it that we’re only now beginning to see our ‘elephant(s) in the room?’

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