If you’re like me, you writhe in guilt-ridden anguish each time you forget to bring your canvas tote to the grocery store. But in the rare times we do remember our reusable bags, Americans tend not to think much about what we actually put inside them, according to a new survey. The takeaway: We waste a lot of extra food (and money) simply because we don’t shop often enough.
As big of a problem as it is, food waste rarely makes the news. There was some buzz a while back about France’s ban on grocery stores throwing out edible food, but the numbers show that this is only a small part of the problem. Americans vastly underestimate their own food waste, which turns out to be driven mostly by a desire to avoid getting sick — even though saving money is also a top priority. That means we end up stocking our shelves with more than we need to ensure we’ll always have something fresh when we want it.
That sort of behavior is encouraged at bulk stores like Costco and Walmart, which operate on the myth that buying in bulk helps you save money. But new evidence shows that the push for huge quantities of cheap, high-quality food has caused us to be more wasteful than ever. Simply put: We’re throwing away more in food waste than we are saving by buying in bulk.
“People almost entirely neglect the cost of the food they’re throwing away from their kitchen,” says Victoria Ligon of the University of Arizona, who led the new study. “If you throw away a meal because you’ve eaten out when you weren’t planning to, the cost of that restaurant meal is higher than you think. People don’t account for that at all.”
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