'American Wasteland': a prescription for reducing waste in the food chain
Jonathan Bloom's book "American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food (and What We Can Do About It") is a cradle-to-grave look at waste in the food chain and a prescription for eliminating it, starting with simple common sense. Bloom will discuss his book Wednesday at Seattle's University Book Store.
Special to The Seattle Times
Jonathan BloomThe author of "American Wasteland" will discuss his book at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E.; free (206-634-3400 or www.ubookstore.com).
Jonathan Bloom describes himself as an "accomplished eater and fledgling composter." He could also fairly describe himself as a fanatic against food waste. His book "American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It)" (Da Capo, 360 pp., $26) demonstrates that fanaticism within every chapter. The result demonstrates that fanaticism well channeled can serve as a virtue.
Bloom approaches his subject matter from multiple angles: fighting hunger, promoting environmentalism and acting ethically. It is no secret that millions of Americans (and who knows how many millions more in other nations) lack enough food, despite the gigantic amounts of food wasted from farm to plate.
Perhaps less well understood is that much of the wasted food ends up in landfills, where its decomposition yields methane gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming.
The ethical conundrums are less tangible, revolving around what Bloom calls "the often maligned dinner-table commandment: Clean your plate; there are children starving in (pick a country)."
On a literal level, Bloom recognizes that a linear relationship between wasted food on a dinner plate and starvation thousands of miles away is nonsense. And yet, he adds, "there's something to associating unfinished food with hunger, morally speaking. The essence of 'clean your plate' remains meaningful — value your food. As does the secondary message — Don't forget that some people don't get enough to eat."
After wrestling with the philosophical, Bloom, a freelance journalist in Durham, N.C., leads a tour of every imaginable link in the food chain. He explains, in massive (and sometimes repetitive) detail, food waste in the agricultural fields, packing plants, transportation chain, school cafeterias, supermarkets, restaurants, convenience stores, private kitchens (especially those with overstocked refrigerators) and even charitable redistribution centers.
The book is United States-centric. Still, Bloom manages to travel to England, where governments and private-sector businesses are combining to reduce food waste in admirable, coordinated, effective ways.
In the final chapter, Bloom offers his reform agenda, topped by three overarching changes: Establish a national food-recovery coordinator, create a national public-service campaign to raise awareness about food waste, and ban food from landfills.
In a resources section placed just before the book's index, Bloom lists Web addresses for learning more about meal planning, recipes for leftover food, safe food storage, donations of food to feed the hungry, increasing efficiency in school cafeterias and restaurants, plus less obvious topics.
The how-to nature of some sections clashes in tone with the exposé nature of other sections. Like fanatics from all realms, Bloom can come across as shrill and scolding. He is a well-informed fanatic, though, because he knows how to mine data from reliable sources, and while completing the book he immersed himself in the food-waste pipeline — working three months, for example, in the produce department of a supermarket.
It is difficult to think of most food wasters as villains. Some of them, especially restaurant and supermarket managers, seem motivated by a concern for safety of consumers — after all, some older or marred food items could cause illnesses.
Yet the wasters simultaneously seem to exhibit a lack of common sense. Minor changes in procedure, suggested by Bloom throughout the text, could minimize the probability of illnesses while feeding countless near-starving individuals residing nearby.
Steve Weinberg is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.