It's National Stop Food Waste Day!
Have you ever heard the statistic that an estimated 40% of the food that is produced gets wasted? It’s easy to imagine food waste as the soggy bag of salad greens in the back of the fridge we didn’t get to in time or those leftovers we intended to reheat and forgot about. But our food system is so complex that it’s not possible to simply narrow it down to those kinds of scenarios.
When it comes to getting food to our tables, the potential roadblocks are many. Sometimes one tomato goes bad in an entire case, so the whole thing has to get thrown away for food safety reasons. Paying someone to throw out a case of tomatoes can be much cheaper than paying people to sort through the entire case of tomatoes. And sometimes food gets close to it’s ‘best by’ date, so distributors can no longer sell it to stores. In some instances, grocery stores will not accept imperfect produce from farmers because consumers won’t buy it. And sometimes, there is a bumper crop of a perishable item, and the farmers just don’t have time (because they are very busy farming) to find a place to distribute it before it goes bad. If you’ve worked on a farm, you know that there is so much more to feeding people than just growing food.
Regardless of how the food gets wasted, it’s a big problem. There are people all over the world who face hunger on a daily basis. It’s easy to think about all of the resources that are wasted in the production of food that doesn’t get eaten, such as water and gasoline, but it’s also important to think about the amount of land used in agriculture to produce that food as well. All farmland was something else before it was transitioned to farmland, maybe a prairie or perhaps a forest. We are altering natural spaces to grow food that doesn’t always get used.
Here at Community Hunger Solutions, we are extremely grateful for our relationships with local farmers and producers. Our farmers can bring us what is considered ‘seconds’ produce - not the perfect shape or size but still edible and nutritious - and we can work with area food pantries to ensure that food doesn’t go to waste. If there is a bumper crop of a certain fruit or vegetable, we can be contacted to find the right places to distribute the food, as well. We can also accept foods that are close to their expiration date and move them quickly, ensuring that perfectly good foods don’t end up in a landfill.
There are many steps we can take to reduce our food waste.
What we can do:
Be aware of what’s in the fridge, and check often. Sometimes a dry erase marker board on the outside of the fridge that says what's in the fridge will help families remember what could be hidden in the very back.
Preserve food if you can’t get to it. If you have the freezer space, some leftovers can be stored there. A great example is soup. If you know you won’t get to it in time, store it in the freezer, and later you will have a quick meal for another time. Foods can also be preserved through drying, canning, and fermenting. Your local UW Extension office should have information on how to preserve food, and sometimes they even offer hands-on classes.
Making soup can also be a great way to use items that are getting old. Once a week or so, we go through the fridge for veggies and proteins that need to be used and make soup out of them.
Share food waste tips with your friends and neighbors! One of our favorite ways to get more nutrients from our vegetables is to freeze scraps in a freezer bag, and once the bag is full, make a broth or stock out of it. This can be done with onion and garlic skins, and sometimes other parts of vegetables we don’t normally think of as edible. For example, last fall, I dug up the roots of my parsley, scrubbed them down, and added the roots to stock all winter for a little extra flavor. The process of learning more about what’s usable and what isn’t can be very exciting.
Be smart with our use of land. There are many gardening practices that Black and Indigenous farmers have utilized to grow food sustainably. These include agroforestry techniques, crop rotations, cover cropping, incorporating compost, saving seed, saving space through intercropping, increasing diversity through polyculture plantings, and harvesting water from the rainfall. Check out this information provided by FoodTank (https://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-08-14/five-indigenous-farming-practices-enhancing-food-security/) and Soul Fire Farm (https://www.soulfirefarm.org/theland/farmingpractices/) to learn more.
Get creative with your recipes. Check out this website for a variety of fun recipes to help reduce food waste while cooking: https://www.stopfoodwasteday.com/en/recipes.html
Volunteer with or donate to Community Hunger Solutions. We have oodles of volunteer positions available, from produce and dairy sorting, to harvesting from and helping maintain a new community garden. Maybe you have a skill to share that we didn’t list? Contact us and we may be able to find a place for you. Additionally, financial donations are always appreciated. The costs of purchasing food, delivering it, and running an organization can add up fast, and any help with the expenses is always appreciated.
Do you have a favorite way to reduce food waste that is not on our list? Let us know!
Volunteers bagging local organic potatoes for distribution