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.
Since the Great Depression and the world wars, the American attitude toward food has gone from a "use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without" patriotic and parsimonious duty to an orgy of "grab-and-go" where food's fetish and convenience qualities are valued above sustainability or nutrition. Journalist Bloom follows the trajectory of America's food from gathering to garbage bin in this compelling and finely reported study, examining why roughly half of our harvest ends up in landfills or rots in the field. He accounts for every source of food waste, from how it is picked, purchased, and tossed in fear of being past inscrutable "best by" dates. Bloom's most interesting point is psychological: we have trained ourselves to regard food as a symbol of American plenty that should be available at all seasons and times, and in dizzying quantities. "Current rates of waste and population growth can't coexist much longer," he warns and makes smart suggestions on becoming individually and collectively more food conscious "to keep our Earth and its inhabitants physically and morally healthy."