Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wasted Food, Part 2

Currently I am reading the book The Faith Club, A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew-Three Women Search for Understanding by R. Idliby, S. Oliver and P. Warner (2006). In one chapter, Ranya, a Muslim woman, lists a few Islamic traditions. She goes on to describe one of them: “I am reluctant to throw out leftover bread without kissing it and asking for God's forgiveness, a custom reminding Muslims that many people in our world remain hungry”. We don't always realize how many people are hungry around the world and in our neighborhoods. We NEED daily reminders. In both ethical and financial terms, we cannot afford to waste food. In my previous blog, I gave numbers and facts on hunger and food waste. If you did not read the last blog, I encourage you to do so before continuing on here.

Three low-cost approaches are given in the article I mentioned from The Worldwatch Institute ( Reducing Food Waste: Making the Most of our Abundace, 2011). Those are: getting surpluses to those who need it, raising consumer awareness and reducing waste to landfills, and improving storage and processing for small-scale farmers in developing countries. Let's look at each one.

We cannot deny the existence of domestic poverty. Many children need to go to school in order to eat, families skip meals or give up other needed supplies in order to eat. Yet, we throw away an amazing amount of food. Some options for getting surpluses to those in need include: donating to food pantries and food banks and collecting from universities, grocers, businesses and restaurants to then deliver it to food programs. Some of this is already happening here. Churches with gardens are donating to food programs, Campus Kitchen (the free dinner on Monday night in Canton) utilizes excess food from the SLU dining halls, and some farmers are giving to food pantries and free weekly meals. I would love to see more of this connecting. What about retail food businesses and restaurants? What about the excess produce farmers may have after a farmers' market?

The second approach involves raising consumer awareness and reducing landfill waste. Raising consumer awareness is usually an uphill battle, yet after the battle is over what was once fought against becomes routine. Recycling is a great example. In terms of food waste, we are just beginning to raise awareness. In 2010, San Francisco became the first city to pass legislation requiring all households to separate recycling and compost from garbage. A class at Canton's elementary school did a study on how much of the garbage is food waste and are now making recommendations to the superintendent on how to separate food out for composting. To learn more about how to reduce waste and tips for leftovers, visit

Developing countries do not have expensive, western-style grain storage and processing facilities. This leads to a tremendous amount of food waste. In Pakistan, the United Nations helped 9 percent of farmers cut their storage losses up to 70 percent by replacing jute bags and mud constructions with metal grain storage containers (WorldWatch Institute, 2011). During my international travel, I haven't seen daily food waste as in the USA. When I was in Rwanda, my daughter didn't finish her meal one night. The Rwandan girls were shocked and asked for her plate to then divide the remainders amongst themselves. They just don't waste food like we do. In the United States, the food is wasted after production and shipping. It has made it to tables and stores, but for many reasons is still discarded. In developing countries, the reverse is true. The food is wasted prior to being sent for consumption due to adequate storage systems. Many sources tell us we will need to double food production in the next half-century, wasting food will just not be an option.

If you have any connections around the community to grocers, restaurants, universities, and farmers, please encourage them to donate their excess food. Living in a community means caring for and about one another. I firmly believe what happens to our local, domestic, and international neighbors eventually affects us all.