Would you feed your family with food you dug out of the trash? If you knew where to look, you might consider it. The Food Network recently aired The Big Waste to draw attention to the problem of food waste in the U.S.
Chefs Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Anne Burrell, and Alex Guarnaschelli were assigned the task of creating a gourmet banquet using only food that was destined for the trash, or in some cases, already in the trash. Sounds disgusting, right? It was, but not in the way one might expect.
From restaurants to farms to grocery stores and, yes, into the dumpsters the chefs went in search of discarded food items. The teams had no trouble locating an abundance of food -- perfectly edible food -- even appetizing food -- all considered trash and almost all of which was approved by a health inspector.
The resulting meal was glorious, but the aftertaste is hideous. So many hungry people; so much food unceremoniously dumped into the garbage and left to rot. "Food waste" is too kind a term.
THE FACTS ON FOOD WASTE
According the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
Almost half the food in the U.S. goes to waste.Approximately 100 billion pounds of food -- about 3,000 pounds per second -- is wasted in the U.S. each year.Food scraps make up almost 12 percent of all the municipal solid waste generated in the U.S.Less than 3 percent of food waste is recovered.Food waste losses account for up to $100 billion per year; $30-40 billion within the commercial or retail sector (e.g., restaurants, convenience stores) and $20 billion from farming and food processing.
HUNGER IN AMERICA
2010 Hunger and Poverty Statistics from Feeding America:
48.8 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 32.6 million adults and 16.2 million children.14.5 percent of households (17.2 million households) were food insecure.5.4 percent of households (6.4 million households) experienced very low food security.Households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 20.2 percent compared to 11.7 percent.4.8 percent of all U.S. households (5.6 million households) accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times.Among members of Feeding America, 74 percent of pantries, 65 percent of kitchens, and 54 percent of shelters reported that there had been an increase since 2006 in the number of clients who come to their emergency food program sites.
SOLVING THE DILEMMA: WHAT THE FOOD SERVICE INDUSTRY NEEDS TO KNOW
The food you cannot use can feed the hungry through local food banks, soup kitchens, pantries, and shelters.Many food banks will pick up food that otherwise might be thrown away, saving disposal fees.Organizations like Feeding America accept produce, packaged goods, refrigerated or frozen products, discontinued items, seasonal and promotional overages, etc., transporting them from your location to food banks. If your company is interested in donating, please visit Feeding America's Product Donationspage.The Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996 to protect companies from liability and to encourage food donations.Food donations to charities are tax deductible.Cutting down on food waste in the garbage also cuts down on odors, insects, and rodents around your place of business.Composting unused food creates nutrient-rich soil.Less waste conserves landfill space.
LONG-TERM SOLUTION REQUIRES A COMPREHENSIVE VIEW OF THE PROBLEM: FROM FARM TO FORK
"Small, incremental steps can result in big differences -- and we need to do more than simply spark debate about this topic," said Steven Jilleba, CMC executive chef, Unilever Food Solutions North America. "As an industry, we need to look at stock management, menu flexibility, portion sizes, and many other elements involved in the journey from farm to fork in order to be able to begin tackling this problem."
WHAT INDIVIDUALS CAN DO TO CUT FOOD WASTE
Start from the Kitchen
Whether cooking at home or dining out, there are several ways individuals can cut down on food waste. Unilever Food Solutions provides these tips:
Be creative. Use extra veggies you already have to create tasty starter dishes, such a soups or a veggie dip for appetizers.Accurate measuring is of the utmost importance. Use scales and measuring tools to ensure extra amounts of ingredients are not being used in your favorite family recipe.Be mindful of portion sizes. Serving appropriate amounts of food will encourage guests and family members to take less; therefore, reducing the amount of food you throw away.Make sure you are effectively disposing of waste. Explore local recycling and compost methods and consider all aspects of your process when cleaning up after a family meal or party.
Know your farmer, know your food, know your store
Chef George Vutetakis, founder of Inn Season Cafe in Royal Oak, Michigan, author of the vegetarian cookbook, Vegetarian Traditions, and the new Director of Research and Development at Garden Fresh Salsa in Ferndale, Michigan adds:
"My mantra is ‘know your farmer, know your food.' Often, we make the mistake of purchasing products because of price or convenience, which can lead to moldy or flavorless produce, rancid nuts, stale grains and oats, etc. These items wind up in the trash and cause our grocery bills to add up. All this can be avoided by purchasing from trusted farmers at farmers markets.
"In colder climates, it is not always possible to buy directly from one's local farmer, so ‘know your store.' Get to know your neighborhood stores and what they specialize in. It may cost a little more up front, but plenty will be saved in the long-run."
HELP FEED THE HUNGRY
Do you have edible food in your kitchen that is destined for the trash? Before you lift the lid on your garbage can, consider donating it to a food bank near you: Feeding America Food Bank Locator.
Sources: US Environmental Protection Agency; Feeding America; Unilever Food Solutions North America; Chef George Vutetakis, author of "Vegetarian Traditions"
References: The Food Network: The Big Waste; Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act
Image Source: EPA
nn Pietrangelo is the author of "No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis." She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and writes for sites around the web.
I cannot agree more on the point about "know your farmer, know your food, know your store". The CSA model is a great example. Not only are you getting the freshest organic offerings, you are also helping to reduce waste. Your farmers know ahead of time what their customers like and at what amount. Just like the Japanese famous pull manufacturing system that had helped to build the nation into an industrial power, this in-demand system is best for the consumers and the environment.