Thursday, November 13, 2014

Food Waste and Hunger in America

Nearly 35 million tons of food was trashed in the United States in 2012 according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA’s) Municipal Characterization Report. Practically all of that wasted food, 96%, ended up in landfills or incinerators releasing greenhouse gases. That is about 220 pound of food waste for each and every person in the U.S. The EPA estimates that this waste represents approximately $165 billion annually, though I have no clue how they calculate that. The truth is that no matter how efficient you try to be with your food planning there is always a certain amount of waste; nonetheless, 220 pound of waste per person is shocking.

We have to do something about this. This wasted food is particularly disturbing when you consider that in 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in “food insecure” households, the official measure of food deprivation in America. The U. S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as not having consistent access to adequate food throughout the year. This is usually caused by poverty and a lack of other resources like transportation. People who are food insecure are simply hungry, or at risk of hunger. In the United States people go hungry every day. There are hungry people in every state and community in America, your community is not exempt.

But there is hope. Foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation are working on new approaches for solving food and nutrition related challenges including reducing food waste. In addition, the EPA is working with supermarkets, universities, and other businesses to reduce food waste by donating unused food to food Banks (our own Haymarket Food Bank could use your donations) or turning it into compost (which does not feed people, but returns the nutrients to the land) as part of the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. The EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have joined forces in the U.S. Food Waste Challenge to raise awareness of the environmental, health and nutrition issues created by wasted food. Families and individuals can also help to cut down on food waste, and save money in the process.

Here are tips anyone can use to reduce their impact on the environment this for the holidays and throughout the year.
  • Plan your menus, you have to eat every day, plan for it. 
  • Shop your refrigerator first . Keep a list of everything already have on hand and use it. 
  • Take a detailed list to the grocery store each week will cut down on overbuying which, in turn, will reduce waste and save money. Know what you have and know what you need. Buying in bulk only saves money if you are able to use the food before it spoils. 
  • Use your leftovers. Get over it-leftovers are good food. In my house we plan to eat each meal I cook twice-leftover dinner is incorporated into lunches, diced into sautéed vegetables or a salad. Make soup with leftover turkey, chicken, or meat, beans and vegetables. Stew, pot roast or brisket is great on a second (or even third) day. 
  • Donate usable food to a food bank, shelter, soup kitchen or other organization that feeds hungry people in your community. Nutritious, safe, and untouched food can be donated to food banks to help those in need. Twice a year I go through my pantry and make sure that canned and bagged goods are used or donated. I canned an unbelievable amount of tomatoes at the end of the summer, so the cans of tomatoes on the shelf are being donated to the food bank. 
  • If you are not into canning, the freezer is your friend. Freeze, preserve, or can surplus fruits and vegetables. If you only need half a green pepper, dice the other half and freeze. Frozen grapes are a wonderful desert. 
  • Compost your food waste. Composting reduces the amount of food waste that goes into the trash. And you'll end up with free, fertilizer that will help next year's garden grow. Uncooked vegetables and fruits, eggshells, and coffee grinds are just some of the items that can be composted. 
  • At restaurants, order only what you can finish by asking about portion sizes and be aware of side dishes included with entrees. Take home the leftovers and keep them for your next meal. 
  • At all-you-can-eat buffets, take only what you can eat. 
  • Befriend the neighbors with dogs (my cat eats about 4 grams of leftovers every other day). In truth the last piece of pot roast or the grizzle from meat (which cannot be composted) is mixed with a bit of stock and cooked vegetables and given to the neighborhood dogs. (I have permission from the owners and the dogs like not only the food, but also the belly rub and games of fetch during the day when everyone is at work.) 
Dishes like chicken gumbo can be served more than once

These are little things, but small steps add up, but you do have to start to reduce food waste. The EPA points out the following benefits of reducing food waste:
  • Saves money from buying less food. 
  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint. 
  • Conserves energy and resources, preventing pollution involved in the growing, manufacturing, transporting, and selling food (not to mention hauling the food waste and then land filling it). 
  • Supports your community by providing donated (untouched) food that would have otherwise gone to waste to food banks.
My fridge on Wednesday

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