AT DINNERTIME, MY DAUGHTERS BECOME MASTER ILLUSIONISTS. UNWANTED FOOD IS STRATEGICALLY SPREAD ACROSS THEIR PLATES. TA-DA, THEY’VE MADE THEIR FOOD MAGICALLY DISAPPEAR! WHILE MOST OF THEIR SCRAPS ARE EDIBLE OR COMPOST-WORTHY, THEY’RE STILL SMUGLY SCRAPED INTO THE TRASH. FOOD WASTE: 1, FOOD CONSERVATION: 0.
A WAKE-UP CALL
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that food waste consumes 30 to 40 percent of our food supply, which is about 133 billion pounds. Farmers and grocery stores reject “ugly” produce, despite it being edible. Many schools, hospitals and restaurants lack information or resources to manage their food purchasing and waste wisely. Over-buying groceries and confusing expiration dates add to the epidemic. Dr. Roni Neff, researcher at Johns Hopkins University, projects that we could feed 84 percent of our nation with the food that Americans waste.
Fortunately, the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency initiated the Food Waste Challenge in 2013. Their goal is to cut the United States’ food waste in half by 2030. They’re collaborating with charities, the private sector, and varying levels of government to minimize food waste. This initiative has had a strong ripple effect, all the way down to our local level.
People’s Food Co-op has enlisted the help of its patrons, community partners, and even students to reduce food waste in our area. Their composting program has prevented 48-52 tons of food waste from entering the landfill. The Co-op prioritizes keeping edible food out of the trash and compost bins, redirecting it instead to Channel One and Community Food Response. They also helped fund the Lincoln School organic composting program. Fourth and fifth graders put trash and compost into appropriate containers in the lunchroom. Organics were then sent to a recycling cooperative. Lizzy Haywood, CEO of People’s Food Co-op, says, “Kids who compost now are more likely to carry this on at home, and continue through their lifetime.”
Mayo Clinic has been creative in their food conservation efforts. According to clinic spokeswoman, Heather Carlson Kehren, “Last year, Mayo Clinic in Rochester diverted more than 1 million pounds of food waste from being thrown away.” Unsold and unserved food was donated to community food programs. Even local hogs benefited from their efforts. A local farmer collected buckets of trimmings from food prep, along with cooked food that couldn’t be reused or donated and fed it to the hogs.
EAGLE BLUFF FOODWISE PROGRAM
Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center uses the incentive-based FoodWISE program to educate students on food waste. While at Eagle Bluff for my daughter’s field trip, I witnessed great excitement in their cafeteria. The fourth and fifth graders were in a fierce lunchroom competition. Whichever grade accumulated the least food waste was the winner. The Golden Clean Plate Award could be won if they stayed below 5 percent food waste.
Sara Sturgis, Eagle Bluff development director, shares, “The first year we did the program, we saw a 75 percent decrease in the pounds of food waste.” Most discarded food is composted on-site, then used in their greenhouse or teaching garden. Now that is food efficiency.
EATING OUT AND AT HOME
Brianna Clement, restaurant manager at Twigs Tavern and Grille, is very aware of food waste in the restaurant industry. She estimates that patrons typically leave a quarter to an eighth of food uneaten. She encourages restaurant-goers to ask questions if they’re unsure of what they want. Clement says, “The more questions, the better. That way you’ll better know what you’re getting and there’s less likely to be food waste.”
To reduce food waste at home, start by creating meal plans. Plan to use up older food, stick to your shopping list, and avoid over-buying. Keep clutter out of the fridge and pantry. Avoid over-serving at dinner. Lastly, choose one night per week to use leftovers. Sara Sturgis shares, “Our family saves leftovers and does a Food Network ‘Chopped’ style challenge with them.” Get creative and have fun in your food conservation efforts.
Sara Lohse is owner and professional organizer at The Rescued Room, TheRescuedRoom.com.