By Chris Adams

In an age of agricultural abundance, JoAnne Berkenkamp is focused not on all the food society produces but the food it wastes.

And it wastes a lot.

“This is the food we produce that we don’t eat,” said Berkenkamp, a senior advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental organization.

Overall, 40 percent of all food in the U.S. goes uneaten, she said. And it varies widely by type of food: 20 percent of milk, 22 percent of meat, 38 percent of grains, 50 percent of seafood and 52 percent of fruits and vegetables.

That’s also the slice of the American diet that is most lacking.

“We have this huge need for produce, and it’s the thing we waste the most,” she said.

About 95 percent of the food Americans waste ends up in landfills, she said.

If the nation could reduce food losses by 30 percent and effectively distribute that food to people in need, it would be enough to feed 50 million people their entire diet, she added.

In 2015, the federal government established its first-ever national goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030. In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Berkenkamp pointed journalists to resources including:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Food Recovery Hierarchy,” which documents the government’s suggestions for the best ways to reduce waste.
  • The nonprofit consortium ReFED, which researches ways to reduce food waste and in 2016 released its roadmap for doing so.
  • Information on the federal government’s goal to reduce food waste.
  • New media from a partnership with the Ad Council to focus public attention on the prevalence of food waste.

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