Kenny Torrella recently had the idea for an article on a topic most of us have probably never considered, and he got his friend Harish over at Counting Animals to put it together. Rather than rewrite his intro, here are his own eloquent words leading into the numbers and chart:
We waste a lot of food in the United States. We grow food at the farm that the farmers sometimes cannot sell. We lose food during processing and transportation. We overstock food at retail stores and throw away whatever goes unsold. We leave food on our plates in restaurants and in our homes.
Sometimes, this thing that we call food is actually the remains of a sentient and cognitively agile animal who wanted to live but who we killed anyway to serve as our food. Most vegans and vegetarians would agree that no animal should have to suffer or die for our food. But, even most omnivores would agree that there is something deeply wretched about inflicting lifelong pain and misery and finally death on an animal for food we are not going to eat.
Now, the chart (click on over to Counting Animals to read more about what losses at the retail level and losses at the consumer level entail):
I’m not going to lie, that’s downright depressing. I’m not a fan of killing animals for food anyway, but killing animals (and making them go through years of suffering) in order to just throw them in the trash… that takes it to another level.
Again, see the Counting Animals post for more insight on why Americans waste some animal products more than others, and why so much is wasted in general. However, for a quick glance at the magnitude of this waste, here are two select paragraphs:
Not only do we waste a larger percentage of fish and shellfish than of any other animal product, we also use a larger number of them than any other animal we use for food. Eliminating just half of the waste at just the consumer level could spare the lives of more than 15 billion fish and shellfish that are killed for the US food supply each year.
Even though we waste less of the chicken we buy than of any other animal product, we do use chickens for food in larger numbers than any other land animal. Eliminating just half of the waste at just the consumer level would spare the lives of over 500 million chickens used for their meat, over 35 million egg-laying hens, over 15 million pigs and over 3 million cows each year.
Incomprehensible. And all for what?
Harish goes on to discuss the potential to get environmental organizations, animal rights organizations, and even waste-mindful government agencies and retail food associations to team up in order to spread this message more widely. A lot of discussions have occurred around the topic of food waste, and a lot also around the topic of animal rights, but the parties focusing on these topics have remained quite separate, and I have never seen the topic above discussed anywhere.
Surely, even humans who think eating meat is okay (something that is frankly beyond me), must not think it’s okay to put animals through a life of suffering followed by murder in order to simply throw them in the trash.
I know I’ve quoted from Harish extensively already, but he puts things so eloquently that I cannot pass up sharing his words. In closing, here are his final two paragraphs:
Most environmental campaigns around food waste do not consider the animals in their arguments. However, our use of animals for food and the hidden cruelty behind our plates, I think, adds significantly to the rationale for reducing waste. Certainly, to the hen who spends almost all her life cramped in a battery cage with not enough room to even spread her wings, it does not matter at all whether her eggs get eaten or end up in our landfills; she just wants to be freed from her suffering. The screaming pig about to be slaughtered does not care if we will eat his meat or throw it away; he just wants to live. But, we have to care because cutting waste in our food supply chain offers us an opportunity to substantially reduce the number of hens who will endure lifelong misery and the number of pigs who have to scream in vain for their lives.
All animals who die for our food die for nothing. Because we can thrive just fine without eating them. So, the tragedy of animal suffering today is no more poignant because hundreds of millions of animals suffer and die only to end up in our landfills instead of on our plates; the tragedy is that this waste simply adds to the already large number of animals we use, abuse and kill for no good purpose.