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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bridging the Gap Between Waste and Need

Note: This is part of series of posts discussing the Food Day principles. Earlier this week, Slow Food Boston organizer Nicole Nacamuli discussed healthier lunch options for kids. Today we hear from one of our Community Sourced Potluck beneficiaries, Lovin' Spoonfuls Food Rescue.  Operations Coordinator Jerilyn Libby discusses reducing food waste and, per Food Day principle #3, connecting those in need with Real Food that would otherwise be wasted.

All of these posts are leading up to our Food Day celebration on October 24! We'd love to see you at our Community Sourced Potluck and read, watch, or listen to your experiences with "real food" through our Food Day microsite.

By Jerilyn Libby

Imagine a foodie’s dream: gleaming apples piled high, mounds of pears, and bunches of bananas—then imagine all of that good food thrown into a dumpster.  The sad truth is that in the United States, hunger occurs alongside tremendous amounts of food waste—food thrown away every day from supermarkets, restaurants, and homes.  Food is wasted in enormous proportions, not only in Boston, but also all over the world.   Despite having approximately 49 million Americans who are hungry and food insecure (including 660,000 in Massachusetts), wasted food accounts for almost forty percent of food produced in the U.S., according to food waste expert Jonathan Bloom.  To visualize that number, the amount of food Americans waste every day is enough to fill the Rose Bowl stadium in California.

Wasted food also has enormous environmental consequences.  According to The New York Times and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, more than 30 million tons of food was dumped in landfills in 2009, making food by far the most abundant material there by weight.  American taxpayers spend $1 billion annually (according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) to incinerate discarded, wasted food, resulting in almost 7% of total U.S. oil consumption. The New York Times also reports that about 10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.  There is more than enough food available for all who need it if society has the will to figure out how to distribute the food to where it is needed.   

In the Boston area, Lovin’ Spoonfuls helps to bridge the gap between abundance and need by tackling the distribution problem of getting fresh food quickly to those who need it.  By repurposing perishable food and delivering it to social service organizations that feed people struggling with poverty and hunger, Lovin’ Spoonfuls aids the Greater Boston area in becoming more environmentally-conscious, as well as providing for low-income and poverty-stricken people struggling with high food costs.  The mainstays of food security/food assistance are often overly processed, non-perishable foods, so Spoonfuls seeks to incorporate and provide access to fresh, healthy food that is so readily available and in abundance.  It eliminates the problem of local hunger by distributing good food that would otherwise be wasted.   Food pantries only handle canned goods, typically loaded with salt, sugar and chemical preservatives.  Low-income people typically receive cheaper canned fruits and vegetables, so fresh produce is coveted by social-service partners.  

Photo Courtesy of Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

At this point, you may ask, what can I do to expand access to fresh food and tackle hunger?  Given the facts cited above, hunger and food access may seem like a huge, insurmountable problem for an individual to tackle.  Indeed, food access and hunger are multifaceted problems and solving them will require coordinated action among government, business, and nonprofit organizations.  However, there are still steps individuals can take to do their own part to help.  One of the best places to start is by reducing household food waste.  How many times have you watched a drawerful of produce go moldy or opened up the crisper drawer after a busy week and found vegetables that were anything but crisp?  Reducing waste can save you money, money that you could then donate to the organization of your choice working on hunger prevention or food access.  According to NPR, “If household food waste could be cut in half, a family of four could save $600 a year.”  

But how do you actually waste less food?  Here are some tips to reduce personal food waste from Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland and the blog WastedFood:
  1. Plan your meals before you grocery shop.
  2. Make a detailed shopping list and stick to it!
  3. Serve reasonable sized portions.
  4. Save your leftovers.
  5. Eat those leftovers!
Additionally, you can reduce your food waste by storing food properly in your refrigerator and freezer, making greater use of your freezer for items you won’t eat up quickly such as bread, putting older food items in the front of the refrigerator, using clear containers for foods, keeping all food items in sight in the refrigerator, and making an additional trip to the grocery store mid-week to stock up on perishable items, instead of shopping for perishables once a week and wasting some of those items. 
Beyond reducing your own food waste, there are also other ways to help.   If you garden, you can donate your excess produce to your local food pantry or social service agency, where fresh produce is in great demand.  

By reducing your own food waste and donating to local hunger assistance organizations, you can help our community move closer to the point in which everyone will have access to fresh, healthy foods. 

Jerilyn Libby works as the Operations Coordinator for Lovin’ Spoonfuls.  Her favorite use of leftover food is French toast with cinnamon sugar.  Based in Brookline, Lovin’ Spoonfuls is a non-profit organization that facilitates the recovery and distribution of perishable and unserved foods that would otherwise be thrown away and wasted.  They deliver this food directly to local crisis centers, soup kitchens and other social assistance entities.

Show your support for "real food" by joining us on October 24 for our Community Sourced Potluck, featuring local celebrity judges, fabulous prizes, gift bags packed with delicious goodies, and, of course, lots of homemade, locally sourced eats.

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