By Annie Donnelly, Slow Food USA Intern
America is a country of consumption. We are constantly buying, selling and using all types of products to meet our ever-growing needs. This cycle is no different for our food. Yet, it’s increasingly apparent that as much as we love to buy and sell, we have a serious problem managing our leftovers.
According to the USDA, food waste makes up 30-40% of the American food supply. That’s about 133 billion pounds of food wasted per year. To make this waste a little more real, this hefty percentage means that, per person, we throw away about $391 a year, or $33 a month, in food alone.
This discarded food journeys from our garbage bins into landfills, where it is then left to decompose and emit harmful methane gas into our atmosphere.
Food waste hurts our economy and environment substantially. And it’s especially disturbing considering that one in six Americans currently relies on some form of food assistance in order to eat.
As troubling as our current food waste predicament is, there are a number of promising solutions emerging. This June, the EPA officially issued a “ Food Waste Challenge” with activities across the nation to inform and aid large-scale producers (including processors, local governments and retailers) on how to “ reduce, reuse and recover” their food waste.
There are also national organizations like the Society of St. Andrew that work directly with American farms to deliver excess harvest to outlets that serve the hungry. The Society of St. Andrew also has specific projects, including “ Potato and Produce,” a program that salvages loads of potatoes and other produce that is rejected by commercial markets or factories and redistributes them to feed the hungry.
Services like Ample Harvest offer another unique solution. Through the Ample Harvest website, “ backyard gardeners” can find a food pantry near them that is ready and able to accept donations of gardener’s excess bounty. This garden surplus is then redistributed to hungry families. Ample Harvest’s solution benefits both the home gardener and the families who rely on food assistance, as these families often have very limited access to fresh produce within their assistance programs.
Even closer to home are websites like SustainableTable.org, a website that offers information, practical solutions and tips on how to reduce and/or redistribute personal food waste. Sustainable Table also provides links to other services and organizations where individuals can find more information and volunteer opportunities.
Food waste is a big issue in America, but even small changes from the everyday consumer can help. By redistributing the waste of large-scale farms, sharing extra harvest from our own backyards, and making conscious changes in our own homes, we can solve our food waste dilemma: one diverted food scrap at a time.