Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
A new PSA follows fruit from field to trash can.
Food waste is a major problem across the globe, and, as CityLab reported last month, a recent report threw the American waste crisis into stark relief by upping the estimated yearly total of discarded food to 63 million tons. The Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data (ReFED) report found inefficiencies at all points along the production chain—from farms tossing out “ugly” produce to grocery stores imprecisely gauging their inventory. But consumers are responsible for the largest share of the waste, at 43 percent of the total.
At the same time, the authors also estimated that customer education campaigns could have a big impact—possibly diverting as much as 584 tons of organic waste from landfills. These would be crucial interventions if the U.S. is to inch closer to meeting the federal goal of halving food waste by 2030.
A new PSA released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ad Council nudges consumers to curb their wasteful behavior.
The ad tracks the life of a plucky little berry. (It’s shot from his POV and backed by a sweeping, whimsical orchestral score, like an eco-friendly Pixar flick.) He’s picked from a field, then tucked into a container. He rides in the bed of a truck to a distribution facility, where he chugs along conveyer belts and (for some reason) hatches a romance with a lime in another box nearby. He’s packed into a plane and delivered to a grocery store, where he waits for a family to bring him home. (The lime is there, too! It’s fate!) A little girl finally does pick him up, and he rides to their house and makes it to the fridge, where he’s forgotten. The fridge door opens and closes a number of times as he and his fellow berries shrivel and grow blanketed by fuzzy, white mold.
The average family in the U.S. loses about $1,500 to food waste each year. It’s easy to relate to tightened purse strings. But the PSA also illustrates the often-invisible parts of the supply chain that invest resources in the production process. It’s impossible to recoup the water lost to growing food that’s never eaten, or the fuel wasted by schlepping items from farms to distribution facilities, stores, and homes—only to have them ultimately be discarded. (Choosing to buy local can help ease the carbon footprint, but it’s not a perfect solution. A recent investigation by the Tampa Bay Times discovered that consumers are often fed misleading information about the origin of their “farm-to-table” food at both restaurants and markets.)
“We’re all culprits here, tossing out staggering amounts of food in kitchens nationwide,” said the NRDC president Rhea Suh in a statement.