Brow Beat

John Oliver on How Food Waste Is Dutch Oven-ing the Planet

You probably already know that Americans waste too much food, but on Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver broke down why the problem is much worse than you likely realize—and he offered some practical solutions for what we can do about it. (He also made some pretty good fart jokes along the way.)

Every year. America throws away enough food to fill 730 football stadiums, Oliver notes, and this is a disturbing statistic for at least a couple reasons. First of all, while the average U.S. household wastes 15 to 25 percent of the food it buys, millions of American citizens (49.1 million in one 2013 study) struggle to keep food on the table. Secondly, once it’s sitting in the landfill, the rotting food produces methane gas—a potent contributor to global warming. “When we dump food into a landfill,” Oliver explains, “we’re essentially throwing a trash blanket over a flatulent food man and Dutch-ovening the entire planet.”

Consumer pickiness shoulders some of the blame. As Oliver puts it, “Our produce aisles have become a lot like Leonardo DiCaprio’s penis: exclusively accessible to the physically flawless.” We’re also overly reverent toward sell-by and use-by dates, which are inconsistent and often meaningless. But in addition to making better personal choices, we can also cut down on food waste through better policy. As Oliver points out, we have a tax break for food donations, but for small businesses it’s not a permanent part of the tax code—so these businesses have no way of knowing whether the added cost of boxing, storing, and coordinating food donations will have been worth it. Making that tax break permanent seems like a good place to start, because until there’s a permanent incentive to donate food, as one farm owner put it, “it’s a lot easier and cheaper just to basically throw it away.”