Since 2010, the rate of poverty in the United States has risen exponentially with 47 million people living below the poverty line. That’s one in six people, the highest ratio since 1959. Poverty is defined as a family of three living on $17,400 or less a year. Almost half of those families are actually living on less than $8,700 a year. The U.S. Census numbers for 2011 are on their way this fall, and economists are predicting that the new numbers will be even higher.
As the poverty rate rises, something else is growing too: the amount of food being wasted in the country. A whopping 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is thrown away, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
This isn’t about impoverished people being picky eaters. Farmers throw away up to 15 percent of what they produce; supermarkets throw away 16 percent of their fresh produce and about 15 percent of their fresh meat, poultry and fresh seafood. American households throw away up to 25 percent of their food. And the hidden number is the produce that’s lost in transit — in-transit losses reach up to 15 percent. Tomatoes, leafy greens and grapes are some of the most fragile.
Food as trash has increased by 50 percent since 1974. Perhaps more disconcerting, it’s not just food we’re throwing away. That “trash” makes up 25 percent of the fresh water used annually and a staggering 300 million barrels of oil.
The rise in both food waste and the number of people living at or below poverty level in this country reflects a dire situation — but there is a grassroots organization that is hoping to counteract these two burgeoning phenomena.
Enter the San Francisco Food Bank. The nonprofit has committed itself to bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to people in need. Fresh produce accounts for 60 percent of the food the nonprofit distributes. San Francisco is an ideal location for the food bank’s Farm to Family program, which has fostered relationships with growers and packers in California and neighboring states. The program connects farmers to food banks, providing them with fresh fruits and vegetables that are deemed unmarketable because of shape, size, blemishes or overproduction — even though they are otherwise exactly the same as the prettier-looking produce that make it to the grocery store aisles.
Before this program was conceived, the surplus produce was ploughed under, fed to livestock or dumped in landfills, giving rise to those increasing waste numbers. In 2011, Farm to Family distributed 125 million pounds of produce to families in need.
Tune in tonight to “The War Room” on Current TV at 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT as we talk with San Francisco Food Bank Executive Director Paul Ash about his pioneering efforts to fight poverty. And join our communities on Twitter and Facebook to participate in the conversation. Also, check out this infographic that breaks down the poverty numbers in the United States. Click on the graphic to go to Tracking Poverty and Policy to see more.