By now some of the food waste stats are seared into my brain. I could probably recite in my sleep that Americans waste about 40% of our food, and I’ve told dozens of people that we throw away enough food every single day to fill the Rose Bowl to the brim (Bloom, 2010). Having grown up in State College – a big football town – I know how big those stadiums are. But, for some reason I was still surprised last Wednesday night.
In preparation for our big event to raise awareness about the issue of food waste, our entire class solicited donations of food that supermarkets, caterers, and restaurants normally would have thrown away.
That night, I got my granny cart and rolled over to a local bakery that was supportive of our cause. This particular business is conscientious about food waste, and one of their other branches regularly donates food to a local homeless shelter at the end of the night. But, this location still had food they would have had to throw away and they were happy to give it to the cause.
I guess I was expecting a couple of rolls and a few loaves of bread. This was just one store, right? Instead they sent me home with a full trash bag full of baguettes, bagels, rolls, and baked goods and a second bag of pizzas, pastries and croissants. On top of that, they apologized for not having more stuff. Apparently, I had caught them on a light night since sales had gone well that day. A light night!!
The next day, when I arrived at our booth I found that the rest of our team had recovered even more food. We had boxes of bananas, cartons of strawberries, bunches of asparagus, piles of sandwiches, bags and bags of bread…. In total, we had only gone to eight locations, and we had enough food to entice over 150 hungry college students, community members, and faculty to sign pledges committing to reduce their own food waste.
We fed people good meals for over two hours, and some of those students walked away with plates filled with food so they could share with their buddies and have food for dinner too.
This event got me thinking about the next phase of our efforts. Although our class is coming to an end, I’m committed to reducing my own food waste and continuing to encourage others to change their behaviors. Over the past few weeks I’ve focused on changing my own behaviors and encouraging friends, family members, and co-workers to do the same. Actually seeing all the food that would have been thrown away by just a few places in just one night inspired me to do more to encourage businesses to change their practices.
When we interviewed Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, he reminded us that businesses will listen to consumers. This has inspired me to question and challenge the entire food service industry from farm to fork. We can start to make a greater difference by letting managers of supermarkets know that we’ll buy their ugly produce or day old bread (especially if they discount it). We can shop at farmers markets. We can ask restaurants to serve smaller portions and take home all of our left-overs. We can explore composting and encourage those in the food industry to do the same. Beyond changing our own behaviors, we can continue to take steps to change the systems that are creating excess amounts of food waste. So, although I won’t be blogging about it anymore, I’ll continue in my efforts to respect food and reduce waste and take it to the next level by raising my voice and asking questions to encourage others to lead real systems change.