In January, I heard that France made “doggy-bags” mandatory. No, the French are not compelled to take their leftovers home, but now restauranteurs must give doggy-bags if requested. Apparently, the French consider it gauche to take leftovers home. It’s, in part, because food waste is gaining world-wide attention. It’s become an “international emergency.” Here’s NPR’s Morning Edition excerpt, if you’d like to take a listen.
In August 2015, I posted Waste Not Want Not on my STEM Tuesday post. Guess what? This months issue of National Geographic has an article with the very same title.
That’s enough food to feed the 800 million hungry of our world more than twice over. I agree with Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, it’s obscene. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates we waste 2.9 trillion pounds of food a year. Much of it never gets to market, because, although perfectly edible, it doesn’t meet “cosmetic grade.” I can’t even manage what a trillion pounds of food would look like, butImagination Station is a place where you can get a feel for what a trillion pennies looks like.
Tristram Stuart is out to change the way we look at food waste by hosting “Feeding the 5000.” He started his mission in 2009, feeding Londoners with nothing but otherwise wasted food, for free. His efforts are spreading around the world.
Stuart thinks we should do something revolutionary with food: Eat it.
Stuart, now 38, became an early advocate of food waste reduction. His early life included living near Ashdown Forest (The Big Woods of Winnie-the-Pooh fame) where he learned to gather mushrooms, feed the pigs from neighbors leftovers, and barter for eggs. He was only 12 years old when he wrote a paper comparing the effects of burning fossil fuels for the world to smoking cigarettes for an individual. In college he joined activists who dined on food from supermarket dumpsters. By 2002, his dumpster diving attracted the attention of the BBC, who helped him produce the documentary, Waste, about food rescues.
Besides the obvious waste of food, there’s also a environmental toll. Producing food no one eats wastes water, fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, fuel, and land.
- Globally a year’s production of uneaten food uses as much water as the entire annual flow of the Volga, Europe’s most voluminous river;
- The US food waste slurps the equivalent of more than 70 times the amount of oil lost in the Gulf of Mexico’s Deepwater Horizon disaster;
- If food waster were a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, after China and the U.S.
“Gleaning for Good” rescue food from farms and community gardens and distribute it to homeless shelters, food pantries, and soup kitchens. Some local organizations are Lemon Lady from Contra Costa County, California has (almost) single-handedly harvested, by her own estimates, 12,000 pounds of local produce from neighbors’ front yards. She’s also collected more than $60,000 surplus fruit and veggies from local farmers’ markets, which she hauls in the back of her SUV to food pantries in her area. Society of St. Andrews has gleaning networks in several states including Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania. If you want to join an organization in your area, just Google “Gleaning for Good.”
So, here are some things that individuals can do:
- Shop at stores that offer misshapen food at a discount
- Purchase prepared meals at the deli or salad bar, which allows supermarkets to make use of imperfect produce
- Buy fresh food at local farmers markets.
- At restaurants, skip the cafeteria tray (Diners who use trays waste 32% more than those who carry their plates in their hands)
- Give uneaten food a second chance by freezing or canning extras; blend bruised fruit into smoothies
- Get your school to join the USDA Food Waste Challenge
- Share the bounty of your home garden with your community pantry or through aplenharvest.org.