Clean Your Plate! There are Starving People in…America

According to the relief agency Why Hunger?, 42.2 million people in the US live in food-insecure households.  That’s 1 in 8 of our fellow Americans frequently struggling to get enough to eat.  According to the National Association to End Senior Hunger, 5.8 percent of seniors or 10.2 million individuals age 60 or older in the United States face the threat of hunger. Food insecurity affects seniors, soldiers, families, young people.  It’s rural, it’s urban, it’s ethnic.  It’s unacceptable.

Did you know, as much as 40% of calories society grows and produces does not end up in people’s stomachs?  Each person wastes 36 pounds of food per month according to the USDA.  According to NRDC waste is especially prevalent in restaurants, where diners leave about 17 percent of their food uneaten. Even though seafood is a popular menu item, nearly 47% of the US supply is wasted each year.  Average college student wastes more than 140 pounds of food per year.

food waste in binThe causes on each side of the food insecurity/food waste coin are serious and systemic.  Lack of measurement, processes and traditions that encourage overconsumption as well as concerns about liability can all hinder efforts to prevent wasting of food and matching leftover nutritious food with those in need.  Could we put a significant dent in the food security challenges facing our neighbors if we strove to prevent the wasting of food and reducing our food waste?

According to EndFoodWaste.org, at least 20% of all produce is wasted just because of size, shape, color, or appearance that fail to meet the visual specifications of traditional retailers and their customers.  Ugly fruits and veggies often have the same nutritional value of produce found in traditional markets.  food waste applesFor a list of local programs and retailers providing or considering offering sale of nutritious, if visually unique produce visit  EndFoodWaste.org.

It is difficult to manage something if we don’t measure it.  Preparing that wonderful banquet, five-star meal or dining hall dinner generates significant prep waste, too many uneaten portions, not to mention, oodles of doggie bags full of eatable leftovers.  If you operate a food service business or restaurant, there are several waste prevention programs available that can help you measure waste and identify savings opportunities.  The National Restaurant Association’s Conserve website is full of practical case studies and tools to help reduce food waste.

According to ReFED, waste occurs throughout the supply chain, with nearly 85% occurring downstream at consumer-facing businesses and homes. ReFED is a collaboration of over thirty businesses, nonprofit, foundation and government leaders committed to reducing food waste in the United States. ReFED has identified 27 of the best opportunities to reduce food waste through a detailed economic analysis.  They estimate that we can reduce US food waste by 50% by 2030.

Have you considered partnering with a local foodbank?  Feeding America’s nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs supports efforts that improve food security; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry.  Find Your Local Food Bank

What would motivate you to take steps to prevent wasting of food; reducing your portion size (as it were) at the local landfill; share with others some of the excess of your bounty; and find a beneficial use for the organic material you generate in your daily life?  Would you be willing to measure consumption and waste and set goals for continuous improvement at home and work?

What more can we all do to eliminate food insecurity and prevent the wasting of food?  How can we work together to match the demands of the hungry with the over-supply from our supply chains, cafes and kitchens? Preventing of food waste and donating usable leftovers can and must play a bigger role in reducing hunger and food insecurity.  Your mother was right.  Clean your plate, there are starving children out there.

The Weekly Round-Up: Focus on Food Waste

Food waste or food loss is food that is discarded or lost uneaten. The causes of food waste or loss are numerous, and occur at the stages of production, processing, retailing and consumption. Current estimates put global food loss and waste between one-third and one-half of all food produced.

This week our Round-Up focuses on news and information on this important topic. 

Gleaning is all about feeding the hungry – One major area of food waste in America is in farmers’ fields, where crops that don’t meet top-grade quality are left to rot or be plowed under.  The Biblical concept of gleaning is reemerging as a method, not only for feeding the hungry, but also reducing food waste. According to the Society of Saint Andrews, a group that coordinates thousands of volunteer groups participating in gleaning events. Each year, 35,000 – 40,000 volunteers glean over 20 million pounds of fresh, nutritious produce from farmers’ fields and orchards after the harvest for their hungry neighbors.

Volunteer Participating in a Gleaning Event 

The Institute of Culinary Education and The New School Announce Zero Waste Food Conference — Industry leaders, including acclaimed chef Massimo Bottura, will inspire creative solutions to create more sustainable food networks — The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and The New School announce the launch of the Zero Waste Food conference, an exploration of sustainable methods for producing, distributing, consuming and disposing of food in the environments where we cook and where we eat. The conference will take place on April 28 and 29, 2017 at locations on The New School and ICE campuses. Bridging the gap between research and practice, academics, activists, chefs and business leaders and producers will participate in panel discussions, and provide culinary demonstrations and hands-on cooking classes, that uncover innovative techniques for creating delicious meals from food waste.

Congresswoman renews campaign to take on food waste Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree is renewing her efforts to reduce food waste with federal legislation. Pingree, a Democrat, is an advocate for making food donation easier and cutting down on the amount of food that gets thrown out. She is a co-sponsor of The Food Donation Act of 2017, which was introduced on Feb. 7. The bill seeks to modernize food donation rules by expanding liability protections for food donors. Pingree also plans to reintroduce a pair of other food waste bills in the coming weeks. One would address food waste using tools like tax credits, research and a public awareness campaign. The other would standardize date labeling on food by distinguishing between quality and safety date labels.

The global food waste scandalby Megan Tatum –  The world binned or burned the equivalent of £2.9 trillion of food last year. A fetid pile of 1.3 billion tonnes – a third of all the food the world produced – went ‘off’ in fields, factories and family homes, says the FAO, belching out more noxious carbon than any country in the world, with the exception of China and the US.  Stuffed into this squalid mountain of discarded food lie 45% of the world’s fruit and veg, more than a third of its fresh fish and seafood, 30% of its grains and cereals and a fifth of its nutrient-rich dairy and meat – enough food to feed all Africa’s hungry.

Here in the West, our weekly shopping habits, obsession with perfect produce and scrupulous quality controls mean a third of waste happens in the final stages of the supply chain. Whereas in the developing world, as little as 5% of food is wasted by consumers and only 20% during processing, with the overwhelming majority lost in the very early stages of production.  “One of the major reasons is storage and the ability to protect the product from the farm through the supply chain to the customer [versus] a lack of storage facilities, poor distribution networks, and poor transportation,” says Liz Goodwin, former Wrap CEO and now director of food loss and waste at WRI.

The Wisdom of Garbageby JESSICA LEIGH HESTERResearchers are digging into heaps of discarded food to uncover clues about why we throw so much of it away—and how cities can cut the waste. Belinda Li, a project engineer at Tetra Tech, has been dispatched by the Natural Resources Defense Council to excavate hundreds of samples of trash in Nashville, Denver, and New York City—three cities where the NRDC has rooting or established relationships with local organizations. The bin digs are a quest to exhume data from detritus—and from there, to glean information about consumer behavior and food waste.  Trashed food exacts an enormous environmental and economic toll: By some estimates, each American family spends some $1,600 each year on uneaten eats.  

Science is great and gross! Researchers sort through bags of garbage collected in Manhattan(Jessica Leigh Hester/CityLab)

Nationally, there’s a larger push to collect and crunch data about wasted food, and then make those stats publicly available with an eye toward shaping policy. Back in January, the Rockefeller Foundation—which is in the midst of a seven-year, $130 million food waste-reduction initiative called YieldWise—threw its support behind a portal designed by a coalition including the USDA and EPA. The Further With Food website allows users to zero in on the data that’s most relevant to them, sorting by audiences (such as students, restaurant workers, hunger relief groups, and lawmakers), sources (like academic, business, and NGO), and topics (including policy, meal planning, and food rescue).  By the end of June the NRDC intends to spin this new data into a toolkit including sample protocols, case studies, and suggestions for scaling up solutions that have proved successful.

Trade groups push to expire confusing food date labels – Consumers are confronted with more than 10 different date labels on packages. The food industry is working to simplify labels on perishable food. Date stamps like “best by,” “sell by,” “use by” and “best before” can be confusing for shoppers.  Those multiple notifications could soon be reaching their expiration date. The trade groups are moving to reduce those “expiration” labels to just two: “use by” and “best if used by.” They say it’ll not only reduce consumer confusion, but also keep people from wasting perfectly good food, reports CBS news correspondent Jamie Yuccas. The new label guidelines are voluntary, but giant retailer Walmart is already on board. It says it supports the effort to “simplify consumers’ lives” and “reduce food waste.”