A few weeks ago, the freezer portion of my refrigerator stopped working. I was able to move my meats and some other foods to a friend’s freezer, but I had to throw away a lot of small portions of leftovers and a few other things she didn’t have room for. I hated wasting that food and wasting that money.

I am well aware of food waste statistics from how much edible food gets thrown away instead of feeding the hungry to how much money the average family virtually dumps in the trash when they buy food but never eat it.

How many people really think they’re average when it comes to food waste, though? It’s something I’ve given some thought to this week after reading a research article titled Wasted Food: U.S. Consumers' Reported Awareness, Attitudes, and Behaviors. There’s a lot in this research, but I want to talk about this one statistic: “three-quarters of respondents said they discard less food than the average American.”

Sources differ when it comes to the exact percentage of household food waste in the U.S., but a 2012 study estimated that the average American family of four throws away 40 percent of the food they bring into their homes. Some of it gets thrown away without ever being touched once it comes in the house. Some of it is what’s left on plates at the end of a meal. And, some of it goes into the refrigerator or freezer to be eaten as leftovers, but eventually gets thrown away. 

If the average is 40 percent waste, and 3/4 of the respondents in the survey said they throw away less than average, then you have to think some people are off on their estimates.

I wondered if most people think they throw away less than the average American does, so I asked my own friends. I posed this question.

About what percentage of the food you buy do you end up wasting (throwing away without eating it)? And do you think you waste more or less food than most people?
Twenty friends on Facebook responded, and 100 percent of them said they waste less food than most people. Of course, I didn’t tell them that the average is about 40 percent so they didn’t really have anything to go by. (Clearly, my research is not as scientific as the research reported in the article.)

I wanted to find out people’s perceptions. Most people believed they were somewhere between 10 and 20 percent. One person went as high as 25 percent. One went as low as less than five percent.

Either I don’t have average friends or some of my friends aren’t aware of how much they throw out. (Or, a third option could be that my friends who realize they throw a high percentage of food away didn’t want to respond.)

I’m left with this question. If 75 percent of the respondents of the survey believe they throw away less than the average person, and 100 percent of my friends who responded to my question believe the same, but the average is 40 percent, some people somewhere must be throwing out a huge percentage of their food for it to average out, right?

Or, are we fooling ourselves about food waste? Am I fooling myself? I have a feeling my friends throw away more than they believe they do. Do I throw away more than I believe I do?

I don’t know how to answer that. The only thing I can think to do is to keep educating others about food waste and to consistently renew my commitment to keep my own family’s food waste to a minimum.

My shiny new refrigerator was delivered the other day and every piece of food in it is currently edible. It seems like the perfect opportunity to renew my commitment, again. 

Whether you think you waste only 5 percent of the food you bring into your home or you’re more on the average of 40 percent, there’s room for improvement. Check out some of these articles for tips and tricks for wasting less food.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Are we fooling ourselves about food waste?
Most people think they discard less food than the average American, but someone's estimates are off.