Summary and book reviews of American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom

American Wasteland

How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It)

By Jonathan Bloom

American Wasteland
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2010,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2011,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

What Tom Vanderbilt did for traffic and Brian Wansink did for mindless eating, Jonathan Bloom does for food waste. The topic couldn't be timelier: As more people are going hungry while simultaneously more people are morbidly obese, American Wasteland sheds light on the history, culture, and mindset of waste while exploring the parallel eco-friendly and sustainable-food movements. As the era of unprecedented prosperity comes to an end, it's time to reexamine our culture of excess.

Working at both a local grocery store and a major fast food chain and volunteering with a food recovery group, Bloom also interviews experts - from Brian Wansink to Alice Waters to Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen and digs up not only why and how we waste, but, more importantly, what we can do to change our ways.

INTRODUCTION

Forsaken orange abandoned in parking lot

A forsaken orange sits in a Raleigh, North Carolina, parking lot.
PHOTO BY JONATHAN BLOOM

Willful waste brings woeful want.
–Thomas Fuller, seventeenth-century
English clergyman and historian

Every day, America wastes enough food to fill the Rose Bowl. Yes, that Rose Bowl - the 90,000-seat football stadium in Pasadena, California. Of course, that’s if we had an inclination to truck the nation’s excess food to California for a memorable but messy publicity stunt.

As a nation, we grow and raise more than 590 billion pounds of food each year. And depending on whom you ask, we squander between a quarter and a half of all the food produced in the United States. Even using the more conservative figure would mean that 160 billion pounds of food are squandered annually - more than enough, that is, to fill the Rose Bowl to the brim. With the high-end estimate, the Rose Bowl would almost be filled twice over.

If those numbers don’t hit...

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Reviews

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Bloom... vividly illustrates how waste is built into our whole way of eating, from farm to table to trashcan. As he traces the problem of waste into grocery stores, buffet restaurants, school lunchrooms, and convenience stores, Bloom argues that waste was understandable (if not forgivable) during the rampant consumerism and excess that characterized the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. Nowadays, however, as Americans increasingly seek to reduce their carbon footprint, to eat and shop locally, to return to a simpler, less consumption-centered way of life, it's time we all stopped to consider not just the food that goes into our mouths but the millions of tons that bypasses our plates entirely. And, as hunger in the United States continues to persist, finding better solutions for our leftovers is not just an economic or environmental issue, Bloom suggests. It's a powerfully moral one.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Full Review Members Only (802 words).

Media Reviews
Booklist

Journalist Bloom documents specifics about the nature of wasted food in the twenty-first century and calls into question both the economic efficiency and the morality of such profligacy.

Publishers Weekly

'Current rates of waste and population growth can't coexist much longer,' he warns and makes smart suggestions on becoming individually and collectively more food conscious 'to keep our Earth and its inhabitants physically and morally healthy.'

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An eye-opening account of what used to be considered a sin - the willful waste of perfectly edible food… Bloom is full of condemnation without being unduly scolding… Refreshingly, Bloom offers solutions as well as jeremiads, and not a minute too soon - an urgent, necessary book.

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Waste Not, Want Not

Every day Americans waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl football stadium.

Food waste makes up as much as 25% of what's in America's landfills.

Household recycling of items like aluminum, glass, and plastic increased 400% in the decade to 1999; meanwhile, only 2.5% of eligible food waste is composted.

The average family of four loses $2,200 per year in food waste.

17% of American children live in food insecure homes.

In 1982, the average bagel was 3 inches in diameter; by 2002, it had doubled to 6 inches.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were photographed leaving a Chicago restaurant after a Valentine's Day dinner, holding a doggie bag of leftovers.

Simply switching school schedules so that recess ...

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