Exploring Human Potential

Food Plating In America: What A Waste

Posted on | June 30, 2011 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

When I first began to educate myself about water, with the help of water experts at the United Nations, I was surprised by the facts.(1) Only 3% of the water is fresh, and less then 1% accessible. 70% of human consumption of water goes to agriculture. And the American diet, biased to meat and super-sized portions, is the queen mother of food related water waste. (A kilogram of beef requires 15 times more water then a kilogram of grain food). (1) Even after writing Healthy Waters, deliverings the “Drops of Life” presentation for the past 3 years around the country (2), and writing numbers of articles on the topic, somehow the real meaning of water “waste” escaped me …. until last week.

That’s when I opened the July, 2011 issue of National Geographic and came across an article “How To Feed A Growing Planet”. (3) It begins this way, “Here’s an uncomfortable math problem: By 2045 arth’s population will likely have swelled from seven billion to nine billion people. To fill all those stomachs…some global experts say global food production will have to double. How can we make the numbers add up?”

The first two solutions offered I’d read about:

1. Adjust diets (less meat can mean more food): ”The average hamburger requires 630 gallons (2,400 liters) of water to make, when you account for the irrigation of cattle feed crops, as well as water used in production….The average U.S. diet currently takes 1,320 gallons (4,997 liters) of water a day to produce.”

2. Increase research (follow the food chain – seed, soil, climate, disease, waste removal, non-food use of food – and address where it is compromised).

But 3? Reduce waste (“Up to half the world’s harvest disappears between field and fork.”)

Somehow that had escaped me. “65 Trillion Gallons Of Water Thrown Away With Our Food Each Year”, screamed a headline.(4)  11 trillion gallons of that was attributed to the US where Americans throw away approximately 30% of their food.(3)

Now this really felt like the Twilight Zone. Here I’ve been writing for the past decade on the scourges of obesity (which has to mean that we eat too m uch of the wrong types of food), while at the same time we are arguably the world’s greatest thrower outers of food. On the one hand we are known for “cleaning our plates”, and on the other hand for “feeding the sink disposal unit after every meal”.

A few facts (3) on the amount Americans leave and dump from their plates:

Red Meat    35%
Fish/Seafood     27%
Fresh Vegetables    30%
Fresh Fruit     29%
Poultry     39%
Grains     20%
Milk      20%
Eggs    15%

Stated in another way:

1  “A recent study in PLoS One, an open-access journal for peer-reviewed scientific and medical research, found that as much as 40 percent of all food in the United States is wasted. In New York City alone, residents waste up to 270,000 pounds of food daily.(3,5)”

2. “The average waste has increased dramatically since 1974. Then, the average American wasted 900 calories of food per day. In 2010, that number had risen to 1,400 calories per day. That’s 150 trillion calories of food being wasted in the United States each year.(5)”

3. “Waste accounts for as much as $47.2 billion of our nation’s food supply.”(3)

4. “According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food waste is the second largest waste stream in the United States, trailing only paper waste. It accounted for 14.1 percent of all municipal-generated solid waste in 2009. The agency said in 2009, 34 million tons of food waste was generated and 97 percent of this was thrown away in landfills or incinerated. (5)”

5. “According to the EPA’s food waste statistics, the food decomposing in landfills – 33 million tons in 2009 – creates the greenhouse gas methane.  More than 20 percent of all methane emissions stem from landfills in the United States. (3,5)The impact of this is significant. The elimination of food waste would have the CO2 impact of removing one in four cars from the road.” (3,5)

What to do? Standard advice:

  • Eat locally (reduces energy from transportation).

  • Eat a more vegetarian diet.

  • Eat organic foods. (less fossil fuels used in fertilizer and industrial agriculture).

  • Reduce the amount of processed foods and fast foods consumed. (lessenergy consumption in production and packaging.

But here’s what I’d suggest because it addresses both obesity and food waste. Be very careful what you plate, and when in doubt, plate less rather then more. You can always go back if necessary. (When you’re out, split a main course – in most restaurants it’s more than enough for two.) Bottom line – if you put it on your plate, one of two things will happen: Either you’ll “clean the plate” or you’ll “dump it out”. Both bad.

In her highly successful novel, Elizabeth  Gilbert recommended Eat, Pray, Love. All good.

But I’d suggest for you and your planet, Think, Plate, Eat – in that order.

For HealthCommentary, I’m Mike Magee.


1.  Magee M. Healthy Waters. Spencer Books. 2008. NY, NY.

2. Magee M. “Drops of Life”. MMS Press Release 2010.

3. How To Feed A Growing Planet. National Geographic. p30. July, 2011.

4. “35 Trillion Gallons Of Water Thrown Away With Our Food Each Year”. National Geographic.

5. “The Energy Cost Of Food Waste”.


2 Responses to “Food Plating In America: What A Waste”

  1. Jacqueline Church
    August 3rd, 2011 @ 10:33 am

    You might be interested to know of a food waste challenge some of us are participating in. You can find more information via the website of Jenni Field, the Online Pastry Chef as she’s known. Here’s her site:
    and there’s a Facebook page, too. Twitter Hashtag is #fourpounds – it was the statistic – Americans throw away four pounds of cheese per year, that got her thinking about what to do.

  2. ecigaret
    June 27th, 2013 @ 6:24 am

    It’s hard to find well-informed people on this subject, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!


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