This week, Food Recovery Network (FRN) ran our “Weigh the Waste” campaign to bring awareness to the amount of food thrown away in the cafeteria. This term’s version of “Weigh the Waste” differed slightly from past campaigns during which people watched the scale’s number rise incrementally with each plate dumping. This time, in addition to weighing the food waste, we took plates from people who’d finished eating and placed them on a table, buffet style. The point was to show that the food we waste doesn’t immediately turn into garbage. I saw perfectly normal apples and oranges, whole sandwiches and salads on our food waste buffet table, which contradicts our idea of food waste just being the last couple of lettuce leaves or bread crusts.
Interestingly, the people who stopped by our table expressed their sadness, disappointment and disgust at the amount of food wasted. There’s a general consensus, based on several conversations, that wasting food is normal, almost expected.
I’d like to counter by saying that minimizing food waste during a meal is easier than you’d think. In the cafeteria, taking taste tests as you move through the stations, taking smaller portions and going up more than once automatically means dining services can buy less food. Minimizing food waste during production and consumption addresses money loss, the waste of environmental resources and minimizes methane emissions from landfills.
At home, planning meals and grocery lists ahead of time, utilizing the freezer, saving vegetable and meat scraps for soup stock and purchasing multi-purpose foods helps cut back on food going to the landfill.
Individually, wasting a quarter of a pound might not sound too bad, but collectively Knox wasted 111.6 pounds of food during the lunch and dinner meals combined on Tuesday, Jan. 22. There are environmental and social consequences when we dump food without a second thought.
According to “American Wasteland” by Jonathan Bloom, America wastes up to 50 percent of its food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture published a paper in 2014, “The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States, EIB-121,” reporting that 31 percent, or 133 billion pounds, of the available 430 billion pounds of food at the retail and consumer level went to a landfill in 2010. That’s about $161.6 billion, which is 1,272 percent more than Knox’s 2015 endowment ($127 million). In 2016, the USDA reported that 41.2 million people lived in a food-insecure household, meaning throughout the year “households were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.” The amount of food we waste is enough to feed all those who are food insecure in the U.S.
Placing our plates full of rejected food on the conveyor belt allows for an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that saves us from thinking about the consequences of food waste. In the cafeteria, at home, in a restaurant or in a grocery store, we don’t see the labor, time, money, water, gasoline/oil and other resources that go into bringing that food to our plate. Our campaign is meant to bring food waste into sight, and therefore into the front of everyone’s mind. We at FRN challenge you to consider your habits surrounding food and to consider how impactful your choices are, even when the consequences aren’t right in front of you.