The amount of food that goes to waste each year in the United States is shocking. According to a study published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2014, the US wasted ~133 billion pounds of food in the year 2010 at both retail and consumer levels. This waste translates to a loss of 387 billion calories per day in 2010 and was valued at $161.6 billion- more than the individual GDPs of over half of the world’s countries. I still haven’t mastered my metric-imperial conversions but 133 billion pounds sounds like a ton of food! Needless to say, these figures have risen since 2010 given the country’s increased annual food output and our ever-growing consumption rates.
What makes this food waste situation even more disheartening is the fact that there are so many people within the US who live without a stable source of food. According to Feeding America network, 48.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households in the year 2014. Today, I assume that this number has stayed more or less constant if not increased in the two years since. *Let me just say that I do understand that the US isn’t the only country with outrageous food wastage statistics, and that most MEDCs tend to waste copious amounts of food. However, (as is the case with many things), the US is the world leader in this regard.
Such national statistics may seem far-fetched and irrelevant so let me bring the numbers closer to “home” (for those of you who call Rochester home). According to a 2014 article published by Foodlink, upwards of 150,000 people living in Rochester and the Finger Lakes region live in food insecure households. In fact, most of the people in the Rochester region (about 12.8%), live in Monroe County (which is where UR is located).
So on one hand, we have an abundance of food enough to feed everyone in the country with plenty of surplus. On the other hand, we have a population of people equivalent to that of New York and Texas combined, without a guaranteed meal at the end of the day. Given the economic and social consequences of food waste, here are a few things that you can do to help.
Rethink and reduce- Most of the consumer-level food waste comes from needlessly excessive purchasing. Whether it’s in dining halls, restaurants or supermarkets, people tend to take more than they need and end up throwing away otherwise useful food. So before you go shopping or eating out, think about how much you actually need and buy no more than that unless, you’re positive that you will not trash the surplus. Since sustainable supermarkets, restaurants, and dining services (like UR’s) have programs that donate unpurchased/uneaten food to the appropriate places, it’s always better to go for seconds than to throw away somebody else’s potential first.
Save left-overs/surplus food for later– The term “leftovers” seems to carry somewhat of a negative connotation- food unworthy for human consumption. However, this is not always true. More often than not, so called “leftovers” make for a good meal the next day and may help you save time and money otherwise spent purchasing/preparing a new meal. Therefore, if you happen to have cooked or ordered more than you need, save the remainder for later. It might even taste better then.
Offer somebody else- If you’re absolutely sure you won’t eat your surplus food later on, call up your friends/colleagues/neighbors and offer them a bite. This might sound like an awkward thing to do but, I can assure you that people may actually appreciate such kind gestures. Not only is this a way to reduce food waste, but it’s also a great way to build a sense of community within your residence/workplace. Alternatively, you could also make use of initiatives such as UR FOODSHARE, which allow you to share surplus food from events across campus.
Donate to local food banks/kitchens- Soup kitchens and food collection centers are always in need of more food. These may not be the best places to deposit your half eaten pizza, but canned and frozen foods are always much appreciated. In fact, UR has a group called the Food Recovery Network that collects food from within the UR community (especially Dining Halls) and donates it to a local soup kitchen. I’m sure there are other groups on campus which do something similar so there is definitely no shortage of places to give to.
Compost– If all else fails (from no lack of trying), compost or dispose of the food in dedicated organic waste bins. If you’re going to throw away food anyway, might as well do it in the most sustainable way possible.
Written by Adil Nyambasha, Class of 2018