“Imagine walking out of a grocery store with four bags of groceries, dropping one in the parking lot, and just not bothering to pick it up. That’s essentially what we’re doing.” – Dana Gunders, Author, Advisor/Expert, Food Waste Reduction and Former NRDC Senior Scientist
We live in a world of contradictions when it comes to our food supply (and much more). Nearly ⅓ of all food produced globally ends up as food waste. In America alone, 30- 40% of food produced is never eaten. That’s almost half of the food in the country! And despite such starting amounts of waste, 1 in 6 Americans struggle to feed themselves or their families and 821 million people go hungry worldwide each year. This is a massive crisis.
Food waste isn’t merely about throwing away an uneaten plate of pasta, though personal actions definitely play into the equation. Food waste includes all food lost during each stage of the food lifecycle: (1) farming and cultivation, (2) processing, (3) retail, and (4) consumption. An estimated 20 billion pounds of produce is wasted on US farms each year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), not to mention the millions of tons thrown out from homes, restaurants, grocery stores, stadiums, office complexes and more.
Which element of the food life cycle is most wasteful depends on where you live. As explained in today’s TED Talk, in developing countries, food loss occurs primarily during production. Meanwhile, developed countries, including the US, waste close to 220 lbs of food per year per person in consumption. All too often, at our tables and in our fridges, we don’t eat food simply because of less than perfect appearance or perceived spoilage due to poor storage. It’s no better on college campuses, where food waste totals 22 million pounds. Up to half of students on college campuses in the US are food insecure, meaning they can’t afford to buy food that nourishes their minds and bodies to learn, function and thrive.
Clearly, elevated food waste is problematic for many reasons, but something that adds a layer of even greater urgency is the burden it poses to our planet. Wasting food wastes everything that went into making it: water from growing and washing the food, labor at all levels of production, fuel for agriculture and transportation, money spent to purchase food that never gets eaten – all waste!
To make matters worse, rotting food in landfills emits methane, a greenhouse gas twenty-five times more potent than CO2. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, putting it right behind China and the United States. In addition to the methane emitted by food waste in landfills across the globe, close to 3.3 billion tons of CO2 are emitted by processing food that ultimately goes to waste, and these staggering numbers only continue to increase.
Statements from the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit affirmed that reducing food waste is a better way to reduce carbon emissions than planting trees or building solar facilities. Limiting food waste is a crucial factor in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to a level that can ensure a sustainable climate future.
The good news is that this massive food waste problem is being addressed locally and globally. The student-founded organization Food Recovery Network connects with college campuses in an effort to simultaneously reduce food waste and food insecurity. Companies like Imperfect Produce are taking the food farmers would typically discard and selling it straight to consumers to reduce unnecessary waste. Many local organizations are working to address food waste, so find some in your communities!
Today’s partners are doing their part to lead the charge. U-Konserve provides zero waste options that help consumers reduce food waste. Food Tank raises consumer and institutional awareness to inform and suggest actionable steps to help people reduce food waste and start to heal a very broken food system.
Food waste is a giant and complex topic. Inundated with images of what food “should” look like, clever marketing ploys and glaring expiration dates, many of us don’t question the amount of food we waste. Remember that jar of honey you threw out because it was a few months old? The peach you tossed because it looked a little different? The heel of a loaf of bread you rejected in a school dining hall? Behind those snap judgments lies an enormous pile of food waste that ends up in landfill.
Watch this short video about the lifecycle of a strawberry. Respond to the following questions:
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How often do you take note of what you toss at each meal? Do you think about the food that ends up in the trash from your dining halls or even your own refrigerator? One of the biggest problems with food waste is the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Once you’ve gotten rid of something you don’t want, while you will probably never see it again, that food waste can directly contribute to larger environmental problems. Hopefully, an idea of what happens to uneaten food may change how you think about those leftovers, vegetable peels or ”old” products.
Visit Save the Food and look through their resources. Create a clever and informative way of sharing this important information about reducing food waste with your friends and family! Things to consider:
Post your creation on social media, along with a call for others to do their part to reduce food waste! Tag @TurningGreenOrg and use #Savethefood and #PGC2019.
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Food insecurity is a major issue on college campuses; it is also a major contradiction. While up to 50% of college students are food insecure, 22 million pounds of food is wasted on campuses across the country. We can help address both issues by making sure food goes to the students who need it, not to the landfills!
Start by reading this article that tells the story of food insecurity on campuses. Was this a problem you were aware of at your school?
Do some research to assess food insecurity on your campus and how it is or is not being addressed. Here are some questions to get you started:
Based on your research, think critically about how to reduce food insecurity at your school.
Make a plan and tell us about your next steps to combat this problem.
Upload a PDF document with your responses. Include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
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