Decades ago, fresh food was less desirable, and even perceived as dangerous. You reached for a salted piece of fish or meat. Frozen food wasn't a pariah. Over the years, fresh food has become widely available and almost idealized objects — proof of better eating and living than prior generations. From kale to quinoa, a grain high in protein, it seems every crop wants to be the next big, super food hero.
"There is this whole idealization of fresh food," said James McWilliams, a history professor at Texas State University at San Marcos and author of "Just Food," which tackles how to eat responsibly.
And hunting for the freshest can easily turn into a game of what's the best-looking produce. A priority on food aesthetics in turn creates a chain reaction in the food-supply system. Blemished items can end up in landfills, which create greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
Only the best specimens make the cut onto U.S. and global food shelves. "A lot of product is excluded earlier in the supply chain because not everything grows that perfectly," said Dana Gunders, a scientist focused on food and agriculture for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
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This desire for fresh, perfect food and the economics of farming are generating food and agricultural rubbish like never before. Producers sometimes throw out edible food because harvesting amid variable factors, like labor costs, can make processing unprofitable.
In California, the nation's largest agricultural producer and exporter, 25 percent of all state landfill waste is food and agricultural waste, according to the University of California, Davis.
And speaking of landfills, Whole Foods got dinged by a Twitter user for selling pre-peeled oranges in small, plastic containers. The retailer apologized and pulled the products. Oranges will be left alone in their natural packaging: Peels.
Of course food insecurity and poverty are real problems in America. But that's part of a much bigger set of global, agriculture-related challenges. Globally, populations and food demand are forecast to grow, giving new urgency to food waste reduction goals. The world's population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050, up from the current 7.3 billion, according to United Nations figures.
Scientists and researchers are seeking waste reduction, including technology-based solutions to transform food and agricultural waste into converted energy.
The end game is feeding people. Not landfills.