According to the most recent available statistics, more than 30 million tons of food was dumped in landfills in 2009, making food by far the most abundant material there by weight, the federal Environmental Protection Agency says. (That calculation excludes industrial, construction and hazardous waste.) This amounts roughly to 200 pounds a year for every man, woman and child in the United States.
What people don't realize is that much more than just food is wasted when food's thrown away. There are an enormous amount of resources that go into getting the food "from paddock to plate", including picking, processing, storage, transportation, and refrigeration. It's estimated that for every 1 ton of food wasted, 3.8 tons of CO2 equivalent emissions are generated. Reducing the amount of food wasted is an easy way to reduce the carbon footprint.
Supermarkets are a big culprit in generating this food waste. Perfectly good food gets thrown out because of food labeling changes, excess stock, marginally damaged products, slight label inaccuracies, outdated packaging, discontinued products, and expired shelf life. Some people have taken to the "freegan" movement and go dumpster diving for the still-good food thrown out by supermarkets. Before the reader gets too disgusted by this idea, freegan divers take precautions such as wearing rubber gloves, choosing well lit sites, taking items that are packaged, and thoroughly washing fruit and vegetables. I have never personally been dumpster diving, but it has definite appeal, from waste reduction to free food with a tinge of adventure.
Another (slightly less disgusting) way to make the most of food left out is to go foraging for fruit on vacant property. The NY Times article describes several fruit foraging organizations and leaders, who scout out vacant or foreclosed lots with fruit trees to pick the ripened fruit for themselves or charity. One forager, Anna Chan of Clayton, California, is known as the Lemon Lady. Three years ago, she started collecting fruit and donating them to food banks, local farms and grocery store produce departments - since then, she and other volunteers have delivered up over 250 tons of food to the hungry. It's a great way to make the most of what's available, I think. Despite the legal grey area of who owns the property, I think it makes more sense for people to pick the fruit when it's ripening and give it to those who need it than the bank to claim the land and then let everything go to waste.
What wasted food boils down to the end is that people need to be more conscious about what's wasted. It's not just the food itself, but the time and resources needed to produce that food. When food is thrown out, it's contributing a lot of extra, unnecessary CO2 and it's diverting resources away from people who need it. With so many complicated environmental problems out there, this is one that can be easily resolved, so why not start now?