I find throwing away perfectly edible food quite bothersome. And I wish we could all stop doing that. It all started when I was buying a certain pretzel at a mall and then decided I wanted another kind, so the lady behind the counter, just picked up that unwanted, freshly made, still hot pretzel in front of my eyes, and tossed it into the trash. "What! Why did you do that?", I asked with my mouth open and she stated as a matter of fact, "Because you didn't want it." Yeah, I thought, but if I had known that would be the fate of the pretzel, I would have just bought it anyways. Duh me!
Then, I was taking my two year old to these early head start classes where they served light snacks to kids all three years and younger. Sometimes they served rice with vegetables, sometimes fruits and sometimes mac n cheese. And there would be days when the young ones would not even touch the food. What happened next? The freshly prepared, delicately served, still mildly warm, edible food got thrown away, just as is. Why not just give it to the child's family so it can be consumed by someone, maybe by the child himself, at a later hour?
I was witnessing all this and ignoring it too. But somewhere in my heart, I wanted to shout out loud...DON'T THROW AWAY THAT PERFECTLY EDIBLE FOOD!
Even in today's world, in the United States of America, people go hungry and we turn a blind eye towards the edible food that is thrown away everyday. When we go to a restaurant, we pack away our left over food and bring it home to consume it at a later hour. Why can't this be done with the left over food in the kitchens, dining halls, pantries and warehouses of big restaurants, hotels, work places, education and life enrichment centers and super markets?
I visited one after school program which serves food to the underprivileged children while they are being taken care of. But the left over food, which could be given to the child, is thrown away. When the same child and his family and siblings get home, they sometimes do not even have food at home. What an irony! That thrown away food could have fed an entire family.
So what can be done?
1. Understand The Problem:
Food waste is a huge problem worldwide. According to the NRDC*, the United States alone throws out a whopping $165 billion dollars worth of food every year, enough to feed two billion people. All the while, one in seven Americans go hungry.
Food currently represents the single largest category of solid waste that goes into our landfills. And whenever we waste food, we are also wasting the resources required to produce it. The water that goes into growing all this discarded bounty, if conserved, could meet the annual household water needs of 500 million people. And the energy required to grow it represents 70 times the amount of oil spilled in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Forty percent of the food produced in the United States gets tossed in the trash just because it is not beautiful to look at. And much of it is perfectly edible. The waste begins in the fields, where farmers—fully aware that their shipments could be refused by buyers if their products fail to meet size or color expectations—begin the culling process. Food that clears the farm’s front gate then heads to a processing and distribution center, where it’s winnowed further. From there it journeys to individual supermarkets, whose marketing strategies rely on presenting an image of abundance and perfection. The result, more culling. Retailers are responsible for discarding about 10 percent of America’s food, much of it because it doesn’t look good enough to sell.
And when it does sell, it still doesn’t mean it’s going to get eaten. People whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs—or whose actual dinner-making schedules are tighter than their imagined ones—waste plenty, too. According to Dana Gunders, an NRDC scientist who focuses on food and agriculture, every year American grocery shoppers chuck some twenty five percent of edible food after carting it home.
2. Redistribute Leftover Food:
If we could just look around at our workplace, our educational centers, even our home refrigerators, we would find so much food that we could save and give to someone who is hungry.
Two Birds and One Stone is a group of concerned NYU students, who volunteer to pick up left over dining hall food and deliver it to the local soup kitchen and homeless shelters. They do this every day not just to reduce solid waste and feed the poor with healthy nutritious meals but also to increase awareness.
Rescuing Leftover Cuisine* is another organization based in New York, that not only collects hundreds of pounds of edible leftover food from local restaurants and cafes but also collects data on every item they rescue. Data that helps restaurant owners better streamline the donation process and better manage their food waste. RLC is encouraging restaurants to use smartphone apps that would allow them to alert rescuers when they have food to donate. RLC says that it hopes to develop this model into one that can be implemented worldwide.
So far, RLC has delivered over 10,000 pounds of food to the homeless, at a cost of 10 cents per pound, one of the best in the nascent food recovery industry. RLC's model seems to be spreading: recently, new chapters have sprung up in San Francisco, Albany, Miami and Los Angeles, and they've garnered attention from the non-profit industry. It's inspiring to see simple but smart waste-reduction ideas like this gaining ground, diverting good food to the people who need it most.
3. Facilitate Community Involvement:
Empowering students, retailers, chefs, restaurant managers and everybody associated with the food industry to take action against food injustice, environmental degradation and poverty plays a key role in reducing food waste. The food can be donated to any non-profit organization such as after school programs, retirement homes, shelters or churches.
Food Recovery Network* is another organization that helps college and university students manage food redistribution. It also provides a certification* to those businesses that participate in food recovery program to fill people rather than landfills.
4. Preserve Food:
If you are not 100 percent sure of how to store or preserve food, head over to the USDA's online Agricultural Library* for good, basic, unbranded info. Food writer Eugenia Bone’s Kitchen Ecosystem blog* also provides meal-prep inspiration, where the organizing principle is finding and sharing recipes that use every last shred of ingredients on hand.