How have recent public policies, corporate initiatives, and mobilizations around ‘food waste’ impacted? How excess food is valued and subsequently managed in France and the USA? This research draws on more than 150 qualitative interviews, observations and document analysis of an emerging ‘food waste movement’ in Europe and the USA in 2013-2015, bringing together actors involved in a wide range of organizations in the food and waste system. I find that different actors and organizations view ‘waste’ in different ways depending on their divergent interests in the production, (re)distribution, consumption and disposal of food. Despite endorsing a hierarchy of preferable solutions – prevention, recovery, and then recycling – in practice these actors establish three hierarchies based on environmental, social and economic values. These hierarchies create competition both within and between distinct solutions that are not necessarily compatible. I show that recycling and recovery are dominant solutions because they offer clear equivalences with economic goals, often overlooking long-term environmental and social impacts. Although current initiatives engage in only ‘weak’ prevention, and thus only create marginal changes in how food is valued and managed, I argue that these mobilizations nonetheless have the opportunity to create more structural changes in food and waste systems.