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.

Jeff Foote

Jeff Foote is Executive Vice President, Sustainability at TreeZero. He’s also an investor. He has helped hundreds of organizations, both large and small, successfully incorporate sustainability strategies into core business functions. Jeff has traveled to all seven continents working to protect and preserve the environment. Jeff’s mission is to help organizations and individuals use fewer resources to sell more, more profitably.