I guess because it is the holiday season, food has been on my mind. In going to the grocery store these last couple of weeks I am reminded of the blessings of the many many food choices and the quantity of items in everyone's (my own included) carts. There was an interesting article in the November issue of Reader's Digest about ordinary people who are concerned with how we use our food resources and how best not to waste it. These individuals have thought of different ways to either help with the distribution of food or highlight the problem of food waste.
According to the US Department of Agriculture the US wastes between 30-40% of food. Food that is/was perfectly edible gets thrown into the land fills. The USDA notes that in 2010, that equated to 133 billion pounds of food and $161 billion worth of food that was wasted. It is more than a problem of edible food wasted- there is an impact on our environment. As stated on their website, "the land, water, labor, energy and other inputs used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, storing, and disposing of discarded food are pulled away from uses that may have been more beneficial to society". Food waste is the single largest component going into our landfills causing landfills to be the third largest source of methane production.
On top of all that, there is the problem that people could have benefited from the food. As a country we are blessed with seemingly unlimited food resources, yet there are those among us who do no have enough to eat or enough healthy food to eat. When you think that there are people who go to bed hungry it seems a sin. It is not a question of our country not having the resources, but more of an equitable distribution of the food.
There is a woman from California who has designed an app for restaurants or businesses who have excess food to alert those in need- non-profits, food kitchens, etc. of edible food that won't become food waste. By using the technology of an app, those with excess food can alert those who can distribute it before the food becomes perishable. Her program operates in over 40 cities in Northern California. Hopefully in building an infrastructure in other areas the program can be replicated beyond the California region. Click here to download her app
On the East Coast, a group is demonstrating the problem of food waste by offering dinner in a dumpster. "One man's trash in another man's 6-course meal." They are highlighting the problem by using "imperfect" food in their creative meal plans. e.g. Office Coffee Butter & Recycled Rice Bread -Fresh butter whipped with an end-of-the-day office coffee reduction. Served on freshly baked bread with yesterday's rice or Broccoli Stalk Slaw - Shaved stalk of broccoli and blanched organic carrot peel with a soy-ginger drizzle, topped with black sesame.
They serve the meal in a (sanitized) dumpster. As is only in New York City, it is a big hit. One needs reservations and there is a waiting list. It certainly engages people in a conversation and raises their awareness of food purchasing and food preparation that decreases waste. "Salvage Supperclub exists to create inspiring food experiences with a purpose. We recognize how essential food is to all of us, but believe that the power of a shared meal can (and should) go beyond our base needs. It should not only nourish us but also delight and empower us. We don't just make great food. We put great food at the center of a dialogue about a more sustainable food system. We hope you'll join us." Click here to see their website and pictures of their meals.
The last story was about a former NFL football player who gave up his materialistic life to be a farmer who shares his bounty with others less fortunate. Jason Brown played for the St. Louis Rams but felt a calling to not just use his money to buy food and donate it but to actually be part of the solution. As he says, "I had to be out there doing the work and leading the way." His produce is given to local food pantries, churches and food banks in Eastern North Carolina. His ministry is called First Fruits Farms. Click here to see his website
I have heard of other similar food distribution programs: Campus Kitchen (college campuses give their excess to the local food bank) or Society of St. Andrew (an after harvest, gleaning-the-extra program to gather fresh produce) to name two. On the USDA website there are many other national programs. Click here to see a list of national food recovery programs
What I love about these stories and these programs is that they are comprised of ordinary people. People like you and me who have decided to act on an issue that was laid on their heart. They used their interests, talents and resources to create something bigger than themselves. And, they came up with ideas "outside the box"- looking at a problem in a different light.
What about you? Have you ever had an idea about a social situation? Did it seem impossible to you? Are there others who feel the same way? How can you take steps to try it out? Or can you partner with someone who is already doing something similar?
How are you and your family with food waste? Do you find mystery items in your fridge that need to be thrown out? Do you end up scraping half of your meal into the trash? Would you say that 30-40% of the food coming into your household is wasted? Higher? Lower? Are your "eyes bigger than your stomach" at restaurants?
EPA's Suggestions for Reducing Food Waste:
- Shop your refrigerator first! Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more.
- Plan your menu before you go shopping and buy only those things on your menu.
- Buy only what you realistically need and will use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you are able to use the food before it spoils.
- Be creative! If safe and healthy, use the edible parts of food that you normally do not eat. For example, stale bread can be used to make croutons and beet tops can be sautèed for a delicious side dish.
- Freeze, preserve, or can surplus fruits and vegetables - especially abundant seasonal produce.
- At restaurants, order only what you can finish by asking about portion sizes and be aware of side dishes included with entrees. Take home the leftovers and keep them for your next meal.
- At all-you-can-eat buffets, take only what you can eat.