The Federal government and food industry in the United States need to find a way to eliminate healthy food waste (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, etc.) and increase these same foods at food shelves for low-income households. The FDA says, “In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30–40 percent of the food supply.”; and in the past five years an average of 41.5 million people per year are participants on SNAP, the supplemental nutrition assistance program, due to low-income.
It is so sad and makes me angry to think that all of this food is being wasted and at the same time people are hungry and children go to school with empty stomachs. Food costs keep going up, making it more difficult for people to pay their bills and still have enough food to feed themselves and/or their children. There are food deserts within cities, where families have difficulty finding fresh fruits and vegetables. Yet food is being tossed.
The difficult part is how do we create a more equitable food chain that can give farmers, grocery store owners, restaurant owners, food processing companies, etc., a successful livelihood that can also eliminate food waste and decrease the need for food assistance due to low-income salaries.
One thing we need to do is to encourage the types of companies I mentioned above to donate their extra food instead of tossing it. Per Waste Reduction Alliance, “84.3% of unused food in American restaurants ends up being disposed of, while 14.3% is recycled, and only 1.4% is donated”. This should not be that complicated; an example, restaurants should want to keep their prices lower in order to keep business. However, as a consumer, I understand that if I go into a favorite restaurant and I want to order a particular item that they have on their menu, there is a “cost” to the restaurant for the unspoken pledge of having it available. As a consumer, if I am paying for that “cost”, that we know the restaurant is including in their menu price, then the restaurant should have an obligation to me as a consumer, to use those products wisely by not throwing food away that could have fed someone in need. When my husband and I got married, one of the things we asked our vendor was, “What happens to the food you prepare but does not get eaten?” I was happy to hear that they donate the food to a local women’s shelter. From my understanding a lot of vendors for weddings, hotels, etc. tack on extra meals to make sure they have enough, and of course the consumer is paying for it, so at least if they donate the extra food, we know it is going to a good cause and our money has been well spent.
Obviously, we as consumers can eliminate food waste by buying only what we need and actually eating it. We can go to restaurants that use the sustainable way of cooking; you do have to be a little more open minded with these restaurants because their menus may not always be the same. They cook what is in season, grow their own produce or buy locally, and manage their waste. We can also keep an eye on the expiration dates of foods on our shelves at home, and either use ourselves or donate to a local food shelf for someone to use.
An organization in the United States that is having an impact on food waste is Feeding America, who along with other partners, “…work with manufacturers, retailers, and farmers to reduce food waste and get rescued food to people in need.” This is a great practice to make sure that what they have grown, bought, canned, etc. will be used.
Our government can follow France’s model by banning supermarkets from tossing edible food (and they should do this for food producers too). Creating this ban, gave supermarkets in France a chance to be creative, and they realized they could donate this food to charities. The government can continue to encourage healthier eating so that these foods will not go to waste, which in turn help lower health risks; and to increase better agricultural practices to eliminate harmful practices that increase production of food but not the quality of the food.
We as individuals can do a little, but companies and the government can make a larger impact to create equity of healthy foods for everyone. Healthy foods is a human right, that should be given to all.