The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that Americans waste about 27 percent of their food. (Apparently, some people just don’t listen to their mothers.)
Now a new study has found that not wasting that food is a good way to save a lot of energy — about 350 million barrels of oil.
That much oil could produce almost 7 billion gallons of gasoline, an amount that could theoretically power the average American passenger car (at 22.4 mpg) around the circumference of the Earth over 6 million times.
The study, “Wasted Food, Wasted Energy: The Embedded Energy in Food Waste in the United States,” by Amanda Cuéllar and Michael Webber from the University of Texas at Austin, found that the energy embedded in wasted food annually in the United States represents about 2% of the nation’s annual energy consumption. It was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
The authors note that in 2007, up to 16 percent of energy consumption in the U.S. went to food production.
Calculating the energy intensity of food production from agriculture, transportation, processing, food sales, storage and preparation, Cuéllar and Webber estimate that it takes 1.4 billion barrels of oil to produce, package, prepare, preserve and distribute a year’s worth of food in the U.S.
Americans haven’t always been so wasteful. During World War II, the United States, like many countries, imposed civilian rationing on a wide variety of consumer goods and resources. By November of 1943, the food that was rationed included sugar, coffee, meat, lard, shortening, cooking oil, cheese, butter, margarine, dried fruits, canned milk, jams, jellies and processed food.
Though food rationing isn’t on America’s horizon, Cuéllar and Webber note that “recent food shortages, blamed in part on the growth of the biofuels industry, have created a new awareness of the relationship between food and energy.”
But moms have always been aware of this relationship, possibly because they have done most of the home cooking. So listen to her. Don’t waste your food.