Letter from Publisher
One of the themes of our March issue is food, a theme that encompasses endless topics. Food waste is beginning to garner attention recently, as its link to worldwide food insecurity and environmental damage increasingly comes into focus.
The sources of food-related environmental impacts are many. Agricultural and livestock production is resource intensive in the first place, and according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), about 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is never eaten, turning food into the top contributor to landfills today.
Another unfortunate consequence of food waste is the lost opportunity to provide sustenance and nutrition. One in eight Americans struggle to put enough food on the table, notes the NRDC, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Service reported that the country’s wasted food could provide more than the calories needed to properly feed the 49 million food-insecure Americans.
Americans were not always this wasteful, notes Dana Gunders, a senior scientist with the NRDC: “We waste 50 percent more food per capita than we did in the 1970s. This means that there was once a time when we wasted far less, and, therefore, it gives me hope that we could get there again.” Efforts at national and local levels are underway to curb food waste. The Agriculture Improvement Act, which became law in 2018, contains multiple provisions to reduce food waste at the farm level, to expand donation liability protections, and to increase national funding, research, and policy attention related to food waste.
Supermarkets, restaurants and other food services are beginning to commit to zero food waste, which means ensuring that everything possible gets served, sold, eaten, donated or composted. Innovative examples abound. One is the partnership between Harvard University Dining Services and the nonprofit Food for Free, which allows student volunteers to package cafeteria leftovers into individual, frozen, microwavable meals for hungry families with limited cooking facilities. Grocer Hy-Vee has just announced that three of its Wisconsin stores will pilot a program in partnership with the Flashfood mobile app, which allows shoppers to browse and purchase food items approaching their “best before” date at significantly reduced prices. Imperfect Produce, which recently expanded to Milwaukee, sources ugly-yet-edible produce from farmers and delivers it directly to consumers at substantial discounts.
At home, where the majority of food waste happens, we can change by planning better and purchasing only what we need, resisting bargain bulk pricing that tempts us to overbuy. Reducing food waste also means being creative with the parts of fruits and vegetables usually deemed inedible, such as rinds or root vegetable tops. Composting at home is another easy step in the right direction.
Locally, March brings the annual Local Farmers Open House, featured in this month’s Event Spotlight, and Anne Steinberg discusses how farmers are tailoring their community supported agriculture (CSA) models to be more flexible and meet the needs of smaller families.
By working together as conscious consumers, we can reduce food waste.
Gabriella Buchnik, Publisher