• Jonathan Bloom writes about why we waste food, why it matters and what we can do about it. This is his blog.

Feeding the 5000s

In the last ten days, Feeding the 5000 events have fed close to 10,000 Americans.

First, there was Oakland. Then Chapel Hill. Different coasts, different gatherings, but the same outcome–a public feast from food that would have gone to waste.

I was fortunate enough to participate in both of these gatherings, whose name nods at the New Testament. The idea is the brainchild of the Britain-based Feedback. While the group has held many such events in Europe, this month marks a new, American phase of the anti-food waste movement.

The Oakland event, organized largely by End Food Waste, featured a delicious sweet potato curry soup, site-made smoothies and a bread and produce give away. All told, the event made use for more than 11,000 lbs (5.5 tons!) of food that otherwise would have been discarded. An incredible result, prompted by the hard work of many volunteers.

There were several organizations and related groups tabling, and awareness-raising speeches from food waste authors and activists and cooking demos from local chefs. Even the Mayor of Oakland addressed the crowd, which was a mixed collection of people, but included a decent amount of food insecure folks.

A few days later, the Feeding the 5000 event at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill was different in all but the idea. Organized by Carolina Dining Services, the event happened in a central campus location–The Pit. Not surprisingly, there was a massive turnout for a quite elaborate menu because, what student doesn’t like a free meal?

In all, 7,500 people ate lunch and hopefully saw the signs communicating that the Jamaican Fish Stew came from bycatch, the vegetable curry featured gleaned veggies and the Brunswick Stew included hog jowls that might not have been used. An awareness event was held later that night at UNC with full presentations on the day’s details and the bigger picture.

It’s almost a given, but it’s worth noting that for both events, the unserved food was sent to local soup kitchens.

No matter the setting, I expect these kinds of food waste awareness events to become more common. Hope to see you at a public feast sooner rather than later!

October 27, 2014 | Posted in College, Events | Comments closed

Spindly Sweet Potatoes

You know I love me some quirky produce. Well, I found these sweet potatoes at the farmers’ market and was excited by their serpentine shape. It’s as if they just couldn’t stop growing!

And you wouldn’t believe this, but not only were they edible, they were delicious! Actually–to be more accurate–they tasted no different than any “regular-shaped” sweet potato. And that’s the whole point.

October 14, 2014 | Posted in Alphabet Produce, Farmers' Market | Comments closed

Mass Change: Massachusetts Food Waste Ban Begins

Last week, Massachusetts took a major step toward becoming a state where no food waste hits the landfill. As of October 1, any entity producing more than 1 ton of food waste per week isn’t allowed to simply throw it away. That applies to restaurants, universities, hospitals and a variety of other operations.

If all goes well, there are plans to apply this food waste landfill ban to residential and other commercial generators, as Vermont has pledged to do by 2020.

There’s been a bit of confusion on two counts. Most importantly, the law doesn’t mean that these places are required to compost food. It means that they can’t throw food away. Ideally, that means more attention paid to reducing waste, donating excess food or sending it to livestock.

And Massachusetts is not the first state to enact such a partial ban. Connecticut and Vermont already have similar bans in action. Still, kudos to the Bay State for being an early adopter in what hopefully becomes a national trend.

And just to give a sense of the impact of the rule change, here are a few related stories:

October 6, 2014 | Posted in Anaerobic Digestion, Composting, Energy, Legislation, Waste Ban | Comments closed

Produce Name Game

Alphabet produce, my favorite pet topic, reared its curvy little head this weekend.

Normally, I post pics of fruits and veggies that resemble a letter or number. On Saturday, though, I found three such oddities. And in an amazing bit of Scrabble karma, they just happened to be the letters that spell my name:

I found all of these beauts at the same stand at the Chatham Mills Farmers’ Market. When I told the grower that I love quirky produce, she even helped my search and suggested the ‘J,’ which she thought resembled a yoga pose.

These eggplants are yet another reason of why I love farmers’ markets. Where else can you get a chuckle, a reminder that taste trumps appearance, a blog post and half of a meal for a buck? And lest you doubt the latter, here’s photographic evidence that a fruit or vegetable’s taste is in no way related to its shape.

 

September 2, 2014 | Posted in Alphabet Produce, Farmers' Market | Comments closed

Schooling Waste

Seeing the USDA involved in fighting food waste is encouraging. Especially when it’s in the realm of school lunch. That’s why I found this blog post on solutions to school food waste and the corresponding infographic (see below) such a pleasant surprise.

The post counters the popular misconception that schools are required to trash all student leftovers, including sealed packages, unopened milk or whole fruit. As mentioned in this article, schools are covered by a 2011 addition to the Good Samaritan Act, inserted into an appropriations bill by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. That means that school cafeterias don’t have to be the food waste factories that most are today.

Most, but not all. For example, Chesterbrook Elementary of McLean, Virginia–highlighted in the USDA blog post–teaches students to separate out food worthy of donation. Parent volunteers then donate that food the local food pantry. I now have a new favorite school.

The post also highlights the tireless work of the Food Bus non-profit, which collects and distributes excess food from schools and teaches kids why wasting food is too uncool for school.

Anyway, here’s the infographic:

August 28, 2014 | Posted in Food Recovery, School | Comments closed

Who Says Schools Have to Waste Food?!

I was talking about food waste on Minnesota Public Radio today and many of the callers were school or day care workers lamenting their facility’s level of food waste. Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking a lot about that topic lately. Then Indiana’s Food Rescue org sent me this inspiring video of a school objecting to throwing away food, which led to an entire school district redistributing nutritious, packaged food.

Given federal caloric and/or food type requirements, school cafeterias have to put certain foods on each tray, even if a child says they don’t want to eat those items. Yet, as we see in South Madison, Ind., that doesn’t mean those foods have to be thrown away. This needs to change. We need to stop teaching kids that wasting food is A-OK, as most schools currently do.

August 20, 2014 | Posted in Food Recovery, School | Comments closed

Friday Buffet

Scary data point of the day: in India, 40 percent of the food by value does not reach consumers. And yes, this is a nation where 47 percent of children are underweight.

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If all eyes are on Boston, they will be so for a while! The (commercial) food waste landfill ban doesn’t kick in until October 1. But it’s still encouraging…

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Good to see bike food rescue getting some love, as Boulder Food Rescue recently received in The Denver Post. What that model lacks in capacity, it makes up for in immediacy and nonexistent carbon impact.

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This Forbes piece provides a succinct rundown on food-waste-to-energy companies out there. That’s anaerobic digestion, if you speak food waste.

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Finally, are you really throwing away banana peels?!? You won’t after seeing this:

 

August 15, 2014 | Posted in Anaerobic Digestion, Food Recovery, Friday Buffet, International, Waste Ban | Comments closed

Pay It (Food) Forward

You know what’s hard to argue against? Rescuing food doomed for the landfill and redistributing it to those in need. Doing that with healthy produce is even more unassailable.

Food Forward specializes in the latter, recovering fruit and veggies from backyard trees, farmers’ markets and wholesalers in the Los Angeles area. The group, around since 2009,  has an opportunity to rescue more from the latter source, but there’s one small detail–they need a truck. That’s where we come in:

July 29, 2014 | Posted in Food Recovery, Tree Gleaning | Comments closed

Bien fait, Intermarché

I may be the last to write about the brilliant Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables campaign from French supermarket chain Intermarché, but I want to say that it’s the best initiative on food waste I’ve seen from one company.

Selling ugly (moches) fruits and vegetables at a 30% discount after raising awareness with a line of soups and juices from those same types of produce–excellent. Perhaps even better is the execution and design. Have a look:

While this idea has certainly made the rounds in social media, it’s worth spreading the word further. Because, really, all supermarkets could do something similar. And imagine the impact that would have on food waste in the developed world.

So all of you supermarkets out there–especially here in the US!–adapt or even steal Intermarché’s idea. There’s too much at stake, environmentally and hunger-wise, not to try something to trim our food waste. Who knows, it may even bring some buzz to that retailer. After all, ugly is the new black. Ugly is now sexy.

July 25, 2014 | Posted in Campaigns, International, Supermarket | Comments closed

Visualizing UK Waste

Here’s a neat infographic on food waste in Britain, courtesy of Rangemaster. One of the more telling details: 86 million chickens are wasted every year in the UK. What the cluck?!

Another effective part of the infographic is the Wembley Stadium indicator. But it’s worth noting: UK food waste would fill that stadium 8 times per year, while the US would fill the similar-size Rose Bowl every day! America’s larger population alone doesn’t explain that discrepancy, sadly.

July 17, 2014 | Posted in International, Stats | Comments closed
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