John Oliver Covers Food Waste

If only there was a way to reduce food waste at every ring in the supply chain…


During weeks when I consume an especially large amount of Soylent (it varies week-by-week for me a lot), it’s always a little pleasure to see how little trash I manage to accumulate.


There is a way…Soylent.


You might enjoy this mini-story about a girl that creates one mason jar full of waste per month.

I don’t really care for her painting waste abundance as a “moral” problem but she has a system that works for her on a personal level and I can respect that.

“Menstrual cup.”



I am just amazed how little trash I generate. I take out recyclables once a week (junk mail, Soylent box, soda cans and water bottles). I take out trash maybe once every six month. The majority of my trash is paper napkins, Soylent pouches, coffee grinds, and an occasional plastic wrapper.

True factoid: my gf, in her weekly overnight stay, generates more trash in the form of tissue paper, than I do in a month.


That’s why I’m single! For environmental reasons.



In a recent episode of American Ninja Warrior, one of the guys said he got most of his food out of dumpsters, etc. I thought was pretty weird and neat at the same time.

My wife probably throws out more than the average amount of food for her and our daughter. It makes me sad to pay for it and every Monday when I take the garbage can out to the curb. :frowning:

My family and I were very successful at minimizing food waste, then we moved into an extended stay hotel for 3 months and discovered that eating out was still cheaper than grocery shopping for us. I am the only one drinking Soylent (about 65% of my diet), but it has further lowered the food expense. The wife is weary of it still, but she will be assimilated.


If you lived in San Francisco, your paper napkins and coffee grounds wouldn’t be trash; they’d go in the compost bin. So even less.

The dowside of that approach being, of course, that you have to actually live in San Francisco.


It was an interesting video but I think it avoided a major part of the issue, namely that there is a lot of waste inherent in the system no matter what you try to do about it.

People that go to the trouble of producing food obviously have an incentive to then sell it and get something for it rather than throwing it out. Maybe current rules and regulations can be tweaked to increase that incentive, but showing what looks to be good food thrown away seems gimmicky to me. You could just as easily find food that was sold in stores that turned out to be rotten or whatever and say “I can’t believe they’re so careless about what they sell us, they ought to throw more stuff out before they sell it.”

One kind of error is throwing out food although it’s still good and another kind of error is selling food although it’s bad and the more you try to decrease one kind of error the more you end up increasing the other kind of error. If you combat it by hiring a large army to closely inspect all food then that introduces a whole different kind of waste into the system.

And the video talked about nobody ever being sued for giving away questionable food. Maybe nobody has, I don’t know, but the point is they could be sued and the even larger point is that a store could have negative effects if they give away food that turns out bad even if they’re not sued over it. If a store gives away food to poor people and it makes them sick then whether they get sued or not doesn’t really matter from a PR perspective.

Possibly some regulatory dials can be tweaked to lessen food waste but if 40% is wasted now as noted in that video and if that is cut in half by new rules, which would be a massive decrease, then still 20% would be wasted, which is still huge considering there are 300+ million people in the country.

And efforts to prevent spoilage by GMO-ing it into foods to spoil more slowly or to use the dreaded “preservatives” makes people recoil. And having all the food be small scale and local and shipped in daily introduces other kinds of inefficiencies and waste.

The root problem is twofold, namely (1) there are a very large number of people to feed and (2) the stuff you’re trying to feed them starts spoiling the minute you pick it.


They say that 80% of the problems between people can be solved by just sitting down and talking. So, you could talk to her about it.

John Fucking Oliver, ladies and gentlemen.


Willie Nelson famously said after one of his drug busts: “Thank Gawd I was carrying marijuana, if it had been spinach, it might have killed me.”

This was after bad spinach had indeed killed some innocent consumers.

It got people’s attention.

Shortly after that I was in the middle of a HUGE kerfuffle over home-cooked food served to conventioneers at a big convention hotel in Birmingham AL. A town widely renowned for hospitality and great cookin’. The same people, all volunteers, had done the exact same thing, 10 years earlier, at the exact same hotel. If anything they wanted to do even better this time. Artists are like that, and food-artists are no exception.

Management changes at the hotel brought calls to the health department, that begat a bureaucratic brick wall. That in turn begat multiple repetitions of the word NO! Tempers flared, and flared again. And again.

All volunteers had already gotten food service certification. No joy. It was an education in public health and food safety.

No laws had changed, but spinach had killed some people and enforcement had changed.

My emotions were with the volunteer food-artists who’d sweated to make amazing food to feed to crowds. And yes, to show off their stuff, just like any artist. It was awesome, I tasted a lot of of it. But we couldn’t fight city hall. We bought expensive catered food that was not nearly as interesting and went $30k over budget.

The law says prepared food must be tossed after a specified time. It’s about safety. There is perhaps a borderline-racist expectation that food service folk have a low common denominator of care. Not always true, not even most of the time, but that’s how laws and regs are written.

John Oliver’s bit has some solid real world recommendations on how to tune the system to create less waste. Not the whole answer, but a start. Pretty dang good policy recommendation for a word-artist, actually.

Note also that food is a commodity. If you shift a significant fraction the 40% or so of food that is now waste into productive useful product, it will push down prices of the “good stuff.” Good for you and me perhaps, not so good for the farmer. We all need most farmers to make a good profit, or they simply go away. Life is not fair. Or simple.

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You’ll have to forgive me if my sympathy for farmers is not quite up to the level as your own. Also, I don’t know if I would call food a “commodity”. That’s me personally of course, but it shows that this is a subject of debate and not something you can just state matter-of-factly. Maybe food can be a commodity but first and foremost it’s a basic human need.

Life may not be fair but that doesn’t mean we should give up trying to make it fair. I think everyone deserves food, even if they do nothing to earn it.

You’re the first person I’ve heard call a comedian a “word-artist” lol.

Coffee grounds are great for earthworms & other detritavores, you can throw them in your lawn or garden and they will fertilize your lawn wjile the grounds themselves will help hold in some moisture between rains

Divergent opinion is part of the magic of our Republic.

But help me respect your low opinion of Farmers: Have you eaten food you yourself grew? Did you grow enough to cover more than 1/2 of your families nutritional needs for, oh 30 days straight? Have you raised livestock, slaughtered, butchered and eaten it? Run the books for a small farming enterprise? Visited a farm community for more than a meal and a tank of gas?

There’s a bumper sticker about not cussing at a farmer with your mouth full.

I don’t know how you fail to grok that food is a commodity. Perhaps your expensive public education neglected to mention the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. There food commodities are monetized to stabilize the price you and I pay. Food commodities traded there include Live Cattle, Lean Hogs, Feeder Cattle, Class IV Milk, Class III Milk, Frozen Pork Bellies, International Skimmed Milk Powder (ISM), Nonfat Dry Milk, Deliverable Nonfat Dry Milk, Dry Whey, Cash-Settled Butter, aaaand… Butter,

If you don’t already panic just a little, when someone says they want to make this or that more “fair,” you really should try to look outside your bubble from time to time. Fairness is good, the pucker comes from deciding who gets to decide what’s fair.

“I like that life is unfair. If it were fair, that would mean we deserve all the bad things that happen to us.” - JM Straczynski

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That would make lawyers “word butchers” and doctors “word decorators”

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I don’t know if I’d say I live in a bubble because we have different opinions. My opinion does not make me incapable of understanding others.

My father is a social worker. I partly say this to show why I might be biased in what I say, but also because anyone who is familiar with a social workers job knows they don’t go into it for the money. In fact, most of them are paid garbage. If you were to offer my dad 3x his salary, I am certain he would refuse. He doesn’t consider himself someone that needs to be amply rewarded.

I don’t have a low opinion of farmers. I think they are almost as important as energy workers. I just don’t think we need to put their profits ahead of those in abject poverty.

I’ve researched the pros of commodifying human rights like food or water. Now its your turn to see [some of the pros][1] of not doing so. I know that I am far from alone in my beliefs.

Mmmmmmmmmkay then.

He seems like a cheery guy.

I was terse with my response. Yours was a little rude and very assuming.