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In America, we throw away over 60 million tons of food each year. That makes us world leaders in the department of food waste (Go America!). According to the EPA, food waste is the largest single contributor to landfills, comprising about 21% of the total waste stream. And landfills, with their decomposing food waste, contribute about 20% of the total methane gases that adversely affect our climate today. So why do we chuck away nearly 40% of the food produced here?
According to an article in The Atlantic, the reasons is twofold: Calories are cheap and we're picky.
In our sanitized food system, we shy away from fruits and vegetables that are blemished or misshapen. They don't taste any less delicious. They just aren't perfect. So either they get tossed before they end up in the produce section, or the farmers don't even bother to send them to market, either leaving them in the ground or sending them to landfills.
This is insane behavior.
We are a country of consumers who get squeamish because our carrots or apples are not photo ready. With farmers it’s more complicated. There are cost of harvest vs. price at market issues, subsidies that dictate harvests and other factors. But even if we set aside the obvious implications of converting food waste to address food insecurity, throwing away fruit and vegetables because they’re not pretty is flat out making our planet hotter.
Back in 2015, the EPA pledged to reduce food waste by 50% by the year 2030 to lessen the impact on climate change. But that was then. And given that the current head of the EPA thinks that climate change is a scientific hoax, I don't think we can rely on them to hold to this initiative.
So what can we citizens do? Well, we can make the topic better known by talking about it. In July, there’s a Food Waste Fair https://www.foodwastefair.nyc/, billed as a soup to nuts event to help reduce food loss and waste. And in September, Food Tank, a think tank for the food system is hosting a Summit focusing on Food Loss and Food Waste. Further with Food (https://furtherwithfood.org/) also provides an excellent starting point for understanding the issue.
But talk alone won’t change things. We have to do more. Personally, I think the only way we can begin to solve this is by creating businesses that deal with food waste. Entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to find solutions to some pain that people are feeling.
Like the pain the 40% of the global population living in coastal areas are going to feel as higher temperatures continue to melt the ice pack at unprecedented levels and raise the sea levels.
There are businesses doing something about food waste, like D.C. Central Kitchen, Intermarché, Misfit Juicery and others. Last time I checked, there were over 60 businesses that had some connection to food waste. That’s a start.
The truth is, as big as the problem is, the amount of opportunity is even larger. The pain is there. It’s our jobs as entrepreneurs to find ways to ease that pain. The clock is ticking.
If you don't think that food waste is a topic worth getting worked up about, think again. Just in the past few days, I've seen several articles about it. (I've listed them below if you're interested) It's a huge, sprawling mess of a challenge, covering a lot of territory. But the food waste we're focused on today isn't the food that gets thrown away by households and restaurants, or is past its sell-by date, but rather is the food grown by farmers that never makes it to market, mainly because it doesn't meet the aesthetic standards of the buyers. So it ends up back in the soil or at landfills, decomposing and producing methane gases. And you know how bad those are. So how much food are we tossing ? Experts estimate that around 30% of the crops grown in the United States are wasted.
So recently, when I stumbled across a couple of businesses that were doing innovative things around food waste, it made me very happy. Especially so because we've been geeking out on food waste here for awhile. In fact, we are currently working on a new self-generated project that takes food waste into a whole new direction. We're super excited about it, and can't wait to get it out into the world and to you.
So back to the first company that rocked us: the D.C. Central Kitchen and the folks who run it. For the past 25 years, D.C. Central Kitchen has been doing great things around breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty through innovative social ventures and their approach to food waste. While we were visiting them, they told us a story about how one of the farms they source from had an apple crop hammered by a hail storm, putting little pits in the apples, which made them unsellable. The big food companies didn't want them, so D.C. Central Kitchen came in and paid the farmer 10 bucks a pallet for them. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it's a lot more than the $.25 that the big food co's were willing to pay. And the apples got made into something delicious that fed people who were hungry and didn't care that the apples were a little ugly. Check them out at dccentralkitchen.org to find out all the great work they're doing.
The other company we came across is a French supermarket chain called Intermarché. The European Union had declared 2014 to be the year of food waste reduction. So Intermarché had the agency Marcelww create a campaign that "aimed to shed light on the issue of food waste and to educate consumers to make more environmentally-conscious decisions", according to the agency. It spread the message that even though the “inglorious” produce is not perfect, it tastes just the same and provides the same amount of nutrients. The numbers the campaign generated were amazing. Average sales were over 1.2 tons per store over the first two days. Through social media, over 21 million people were reached in the first month. And it raised awareness on food waste in a funny, charming and viral way that endeared us to those inglorious fruits and veggies.
Here in America, the U.S.D.A. has committed to the goal of reducing food waste by 50% by the year 2030. And New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's Zero Waste Challenge was in part aimed at getting waste to zero by 2030 in New York. There are a lot of ways to address it. Read up, get educated. Us, we're starting a new business. Stay tuned.