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Burgerlary: A Food Waste Trial by Fire-Grill

Posted by Samantha Miller on


Alas, what could be more innocuous than the humble North American cheeseburger? A hallmark of the Western diet, and object of great beauty, bolstered rather than belied by the simplicity of its composition. A magic trick, a work of art - under a pound, yet all food groups are present and accounted for: the strip of lettuce representing the vegetable family, tomatoes standing for the fruit (albeit by a nose, a fruit by technicality), meat, dairy, grains – all checked off against the pre-meal roll call. If the bun happens to be sprinkled with seeds, congratulations - even the legume family will be present at the dinner table.

Surely, this burger is a Good Thing. What could be so terrible about a one-handed meal, something you can eat to completion at the wheel of your car, (the bloody smear of condiments evidence of your indulgence notwithstanding)?

Well, let’s take a closer look at the accused, shall we?



Using the All-American burger as the measuring stick, FoodCycler will break down the global food waste epidemic, from coast to coast and bun to bun. With a bit of digging, this hapless burger shall prove that we all have egg on our face, and ketchup on our hands. So let’s dig in:

You’re shopping at your local grocery store, your cart filling up with this week’s resolutions (“I really should eat more greens”) and late night exemptions (“if I eat chips after midnight, it really doesn’t count for that day’s calorie count… right?). You’re working through your meal plan for the week: Monday night (fish), Tuesday (pasta), and so on. You’re just about to make your way to the cash when you remember – dang! – that your partner’s family will be coming to dinner on Friday. You won’t have time to shop again this week, nor will you have time to cook some elaborate meal between rushing home through Friday evening gridlock and their six o’clock arrival. A quick flick through your mental menu and, a-ha! Burgers. Your partner can even take the mess of cooking them outside (barbecues: the fail-safe of a squeakily clean kitchen). No hassle, no wrinkled noses (because who doesn’t like a good burger?), and no great expense. In fact, ground beef is on sale this week. One wheel stubbornly sticking in its socket, you rattle your cart back into the swarm of supermarket shoppers, adding the ingredients to your mental shopping list.  


Bread and other grains are wasted at a tremendous scale across the world. Brits toss 24 million slices of bread every single day. Residents of the United States only taste 68 percent of the bread that survives the baker’s oven. Cereals represent 30% of global quantitative food losses.

What could possibly account for such a waste of everyone’s favourite fill-up food (“I’ll have bread with a side of bread, please”)? Pre-harvest losses are caused by insects, weeds and rusts, particularly in the developing world, where food security measures are not as equipped to deal with the vagaries of weather. Post-harvest losses are a step up the supply-chain ladder, from microscopic villain, to the middlemen of industrial food storage and transportation. However, the majority of food losses, including grains, do not occur behind the scenes, but between the shopping cart and your dinner plate. 


A whopping (whopper?) 45%-60% of fruit and vegetables are wasted along their field-to-fork odyssey. Those are some Game of Throne-worthy losses.


1.4 billion (that’s right, billion) hectares of land is used to produce wasted food. In other terms, one third of the world’s agricultural land is sacrificed to food that will never even touch your lips. Talk about a Red Wedding.

Fruits n’ veggies are regular victims of human vanity: billions of pounds of produce are tossed out prior to retailing due to the exclusion of “ugly food” from large grocers’ strict cosmetic standards. Imagine your parents throwing you to the curb just because you sprouted a pimple! But we can’t simply foist the blame on our unsuspecting supermarket: the consumer has something to answer for as well. Think back: when was the last time you ate a bruised apple, a knotty potato, a sweating spinach leaf? Probably not since your last round of childhood truth or dare, right? Apples, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes: even the ugly ones deserve a snac-t of love.


We’ve heard it all before: meat is murder. Even if you do not belong to the Cult of Vegan, you have certainly gathered that the production of animal protein (in particular, beef) is an act of ecological savagery. 89 kil-ometers cubed of the world’s water stores are used to sustain agricultural lands (about a fifth of Lake Ontario). The greatest portion  of this proverbial geyser is allotted to feedlot animals. It takes 2, 400 gallons of water to produce just one pound of meat, and 2, 000 gallons of water to one gallon of milk. Compare this to the 25 gallons required to raise one pound of wheat, and perhaps you can imagine why the image of this sexy, yet-uneaten burger is starting to make us very thirsty indeed.


And now. You’re back at home, carting your overflowing (hopefully reusable) shopping bags into your home, muttering about the mounting cost of eggs. You remain blissfully unaware that 50% of these expensive vitals will never even reach your plate; that, from a theatrical standpoint, you might as well have dropped two of your four bags onto the supermarket parking lot, or else lit 2,200$-worth of your yearly food budget on fire – at least that would save on heating costs.

And what about that Friday burger extravaganza you’ve been planning? It’s a miracle that the ground beef, buns, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese even made it to the aisle from which you plucked them. But don’t worry: as a member of a household, you make up 47% of the food waste pie chart. You’ll have plenty of chances in the coming week to toss a good chunk of your grocery haul from your fridge into the trash.

And while a spot of mold on the buns, or a slimy bit of lettuce might mean your dinner party is at risk of being short-changed, landfills are anything if not well-fed…  


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