American Wasteland

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | August 26, 2010 10:37 am

4925128893_d36a5c0a2cSince I’ve been receiving a large volume of emails related to the New Scientist piece on food waste I co-wrote with Michael Webber, I want to point readers to a book coming out shortly on the same topic called American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) by Jonathan Bloom. While I haven’t read this yet, Jonathan got in touch and it sounds like a very interesting book for the Fall!

Here’s the description at Amazon:

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.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to this one and will likely have more to say when it debuts in October. In the mean time, you can follow Jonathan on his blog Wasted Food


Comments (4)

  1. MartyM

    This country should be encouraging restaurants to offer smaller portioned meals for less money. Give the customer a choice on portion size. This will reduce waste and waist sizes. A few do offer “half” sizes, but not very many. TGI Friday was offering “the right size for the right price” portions (don’t know if they still do).

  2. oz

    When eating at a restaurant, my wife only ever eats half of what’s on her plate; At every restaurant there is lots of food being wasted at every meal, multiplied by the millions of diners across the world at any given time; Letting people choose a portion that will actually eat will result in a lot less waste, but of course that’s only half the story; restaurants an grocery stores discard tons of edible, if slightly imperfect, food all the time. Like bags of mixed greens that’re a day over thier sell-by date and must be discarded, whether they’re fit to eat or not!

  3. tontoadam

    Before we jump off the deep end into “sensible” portions in the restaurant business, we should examine the economics of restaurants. Portion size has increased so that the restaurant can charge enough to cover significant fixed expenses as well as the variable ones associated with quantity of people served.

    Food, actually, is a very small percentage of a restaurant’s cost structure. So by giving more of it, regardless of whether it’s consumed, they can “leverage up” the average ticket, bring more to the bottom line.

    I have not done an analysis, but I imagine restaurant chains are significantly more “leveraged” than the local, locally supplied restaurant. Their portion control is directly driven by profit algorithms: more food on the plate = higher ticket and, as noted earlier, the cost of raw materials is negligible.

    Most Americans, apparently, have not associated this super-sizing with their own super-sizing. Further, they do associate more and bigger with better. This will be a tough sell and I have more faith in Darwinian solutions than a great American buy-in of these ideas.

  4. Geoffrey Frasz

    A local Las Vegas pig farmer has made deals with several Vegas resorts to have leftover food from restaurants in the casino/resorts shipped up to his pig farm for the animals to chow on. No word yet on which buffet the pigs prefer.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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