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Submitted by Jayashree on
As noted by the article's contributor, food losses estimates can be controversial. The wide ranges described may be the result, among other things, of biases in the reporting or in questionnaires. The post-harvest losses in the United States has been carefully examined using contemporary archeology techniques. Yes, it does sound strange, but these techniques are appropriate to investigate food waste. Contemporary archeology researches the (various aspects of) use of modern materials, in this case food. By measuring and weighing the materials directly in their context of use, instead of relying on indirect measures or questionnaires, the archeological approach avoids biases when users self-report a behavior that may be influenced by their own self-image expectations. Timothy Jones, an anthropologist of the University of Arizona at Tucson, initiated a study applying contemporary archeology techniques in Salinas Valley of California (the primary place for growing and processing fresh vegetables in the country), followed by the apple country in Washington and Oregon, and then in the orange growing region of Florida. He then moved into the retail food sector, including fast food, traditional restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores, and finally to household kitchens. The results of Jones' work have been published in a series of articles in the magazine BioCycle in 2005 and 2006. He reports that inefficient harvesting and processing of fresh food produced losses of more than 12% of the total; that large food retail places had 10 times the losses of small ones; and that, all together, an astonishing 40% to 50% of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten in the country. The latter percentage is about twice what most people thought. In US dollars, the losses represent $20,000 million for the farming industry, $30,000 million for the retail industry, and more than $40,000 million for the consumers. Jones has called for the creation of a national center to address food and systemic food loss as a public policy issue.