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The unseen pandemic

food waste stock

I got this reply from a reader:

“I have to take issue with you over your last article re food waste.

“I don’t dispute that consumers cause waste but what u fail to mention is the waste caused by the grocery store industry and the produce packers. Its inherent in the way they do business both from packer to grocery store and grocery store warehouse to store. When contracts for supply are entered into they assume a certain demand pattern. However many things affect the consumer demand, one of the main things is weather. A weather change can lead to people not going to the store. The result is fresh produce was not purchased in planned demand pattern and then store has to dump because the supply chain does not stop as the contract is for continuous supply.

“Then there is the internal practice at the grocery store when it comes to promotion. Example, demand from consumer may be one lettuce but buy two for xyz and you get a deal. Well what’s going to happen to the second lettuce, for sure some of it gets dumped. These practices cause immense food waste not visible to the public referred to as ‘the dump’ and the grocery industry actually pays to have these products taken away unpacked and then disposed of. That waste is around 25% of fresh produce purchased. FACT. But it suits the entire industry to pin it on the consumer.”

richard smoley produce blueprints

I don’t think that these charges are accurate. Food wastage occurs at high levels both before and after consumer purchase.

I have every reason to believe that the produce industry is well aware of the considerable wastage that occurs from field to retail outlet and is very concerned about it, if only for naked economic reasons: in an industry with extremely perishable product and extremely tight margins, everyone is motivated to sell every fresh fruit and vegetable item they can.

Here I’m not interested in addressing the huge problem of food waste. But I think the communication above highlights the tremendous unseen pandemic that is afflicting the country.

It is far more widespread, and causes far more damage, than all the coronviruses and monkeypoxes put together.

It is blame.

The habit of blaming everything on everyone else is the most corrosive element in American culture. It cuts across all political and religious boundaries; I see practically no area or subject in which placing blame on somebody else is not the most prominent motive.

The problem is “THEM”: “If it weren’t for THEM, everything would be great. THEY are always trying to ruin everything, sabotaging everything. THEY have no sense of decency or morality. THEY are undermining everything that is good and decent in this country. The U.S. would be a fabulous place if it wasn’t for THEM.”

Everyone seems to agree on this point, although which group of people indicated by “THEM” varies in the widest and indeed most creative manner.

Whenever a problem arises today, the first question that comes to people’s minds is, “Whose fault is it?”

Things would be a lot better if that question were, “What can be done about it?”


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.