Daily Israel Report

Food Waste in US Reaches 40%; Is Israel Any Better?

Joseph Gitler, Head of Leket Israel, responds to a discomforting Washington Post report
By Gideon Israel
First Publish: 8/23/2012, 6:22 PM

Israeli Agriculture
Israeli Agriculture
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The Washington Post reported, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), that Americans throw away up to 40 percent of their food every year, causing landfills to overflow with at least $165 billion worth of produce and meats at a time.

This is all the more shocking when contrasted with the fact that hundreds of millions of people around the globe suffer from chronic  hunger.

The analysis, a compilation of various studies and statistics, found that waste exists from farm to fork,  even as an ongoing and severe drought in the United States  threatens to boost food prices.

The report explained that relatively low U.S. prices make it easy to toss away food, which may explain why the average American family of four ends up trashing the equivalent of up to $2,275 worth of food each year. These wasteful tendencies have worsened over time, with the average American dumping 10 times as much food as a consumer in Southeast Asia, up 50 percent from the 1970s.

The government estimates that supermarkets lose $15 billion each year in unsold fruits and vegetables alone. The NRDC attributes some of these losses to overstocking products in order to impress customers.

In restaurants and other food service outlets, which also suffer from steep food waste-related losses, large portion sizes that far exceed the serving sizes recommended by the government play a significant role in the amount of food trashed, the NRDC study said.

Joseph Gitler, Head of Leket Israel, says that the situation in Israel isn’t much different. “While in Israel it might not be 40% of the food, we have the same problems as America.”

Leket Israel was founded in 2003 and is Israel’s largest food bank and food rescue network, feeding hundreds of thousands of poor people per year by collecting surplus foods before they get trashed.

Gitler remarked that the response to his organization has been positive. “We work with farmers, supermarkets, restaurants, but we have to market ourselves. When we market ourselves and are out there – businesses respond, but it requires logistics and resources.” Though Leket has thousands of volunteers, they lack enough resources to save all the available food.

“Even if we save 13 million pounds of produce, that’s maybe a fifth of what is out there,” bemoans Gitler.

Gitler’s message is not only about his organization. “Don’t leave the waste to Leket. If you are a store owner, restaurant manager or even synagogue director – see how you can make sure that food from events is not wasted to begin with. Wasting food is problematic, but it’s the fact that there are so many poor people who could benefit from the food which is distressing.”

For Gitler, it seems, it is the goal that is important and not who gets the credit. And in fact, in Israel, many caterers donate leftover food to  homes for at-risk youths and other sleep-in facilities for the underprivileged.

Leket is modeled after food banks in the United States which have existed for more than 40 years, yet is different. “We have something called the gleaning initiative. This is an initiative where there are around 50,000 volunteers who pick surplus fruits and vegetables from fields across Israel each year. We even have 20 fulltime paid produce pickers. Similar initiatives exist in the States, but it’s on a much smaller scale. There are initiatives which we have created, and others that we have up-scaled,” says an enthusiastic Gitler.

Gitler stresses, that in addition to rescuing food, people should take notice of their consumption habits. When food is wasted, it is also a waste of resources that were necessary to produce that food which did not serve any purpose. “Sometimes, through Leket, businesses have come to realize their own wasteful habits.

Sometimes in the process of donating so much extra food to Leket, businesses realize that they can scale down their food order; that they only need to order 200 meals as opposed to 400, for example.”

Leket, working nationwide,  hopes that it will be able to rescue even  more food in the coming year. “The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently reported that roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted. We have a lot of work to do,” concludes Gitler.