This is the third in a series of articles for Hunger Education Week – a week of educational events sponsored by La Puente Home and the Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley. For more information about events throughout the week, please visit http://lapuenteevents.wordpress.com/
By MARY ELLEN (MEL) HUSS
Director, Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley
VALLEY — During the events of Hunger Education Week, the overarching theme has been “Rethinking Food” but using the lenses of access, nutrition, and food waste. Access and nutrition are clearly connected to hunger, but food waste can be a particular frame in which to look at hunger and the value of food within society.
There is something that can be said about a society for what it throws away. Currently, the Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley has an installation art piece at the Student Union Building at Adams State University. The background of the piece, is the Alamosa Food Bank picks up donations at various retailers every single day and what is picked up is food that in, years past, likely would have been thrown away. On a particular day, a portion of the food that was picked up was arranged in a 3D arrangement and was photographed. The original value of the food, received in a single day, was over $1300. Instead of ending up in a dumpster, that bread, dairy products and meat was distributed to clients who needed food assistance.
While there have been recent publications that brought to light the idea of food waste, there has not been a comprehensive look at U.S. food loss since a report 16 years ago by the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Society of St. Andrew, a gleaning organization for produce, cites a 2004 study by an anthropologist from University of Arizona, Tucson, that 40-50 percent of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten.
There are certainly a variety of reasons as to why food waste matters – from environmental to energy loss. The most telling one may be money. Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland (2010), estimates using the conservative USDA estimate of food waste (27 percent), that the United States wastes 160 billion pounds of food annually. If estimating that value of food at approximately $1 per pound, the estimate would then be $160 billion dollars a year that is, for all intents and purposes, thrown away. From a report published by the USDA in October 2012, the estimate for households are a little more approachable to understand, per household (2.4 persons) food loss at the consumer level was $936/year. Waste adds up.
The previously cited USDA report estimated that “20 million Americans” could be fed if a quarter of the food waste was recovered. In this way, hunger and the efforts and local food banks as well as pantries and soup kitchen across the United States are drastically related to food waste and its impacts. While food waste and food loss will never be at 0 percent from farm to fork, there are certain things that consumers can do to minimize their waste as well as save money. Purchasing less, shopping with a list, storing food correctly, freezing or preserving excess, using your senses as opposed to strictly following expiration dates and always getting and eating leftovers from a restaurant are manageable steps to take.