More food than we can eat? America’s food waste problem

By Russell Penasa; Zero Waste Team member

In January I had the opportunity to help out with the Food waste audit. After a few hours of watching plates of half eaten cheese burgers and weird combinations of mushed french fries, ketchup, salads and mystery sauces, we ended up collecting 391.5 pounds of food waste from the San Juan Dining Hall. These numbers made me wonder if there was a similar trend throughout the U.S. I found that there is a larger trend that poses a few interesting issues.

In the United States there is an expanding gap between the food we produce and hungry mouths across the country. According to nokidhungry.org, “today in the United States, 25 percent of households with children living in large cities are food-insecure, and 48.8 million Americans live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis.” Our neighboring state New Mexico, has the largest percentage of child food insecurity in the country, where 30.6 percent of children are food insecure. Is there a lack of food in the U.S.? There is certainly a vast amount of industrial agriculture across the nation accounting for 51 percent of the U.S. land base.

According to one ecologist, most of the feed produced for the meat industry of the U.S., “could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat.”

Although industrial agriculture systems deserve a lot of criticism, which includes many other ecological issues, the real question is: where is this void between food and the people that need it? In a report done by the USDA, 31 percent of the 430 billion pounds of the avail­able food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. This represents 133 billion pounds of food that went straight into landfills, estimated to be worth $161.6 billion dollars using retail prices. This represents 1,249 calories per capita, per day, for the entire population of the United States.

So do we have more food than we can eat? Based on the information above, it would prove so. It seems the dis-connection between food and the hungry comes from a lack of infrastructure, a gap between businesses and the community, and some type of pattern of wastefulness that is very unique to our nation. Maybe we take availability of food for granted? Either way, there is something we can do.

On our campus only about 20-21 percent of the food waste that is generated in the dining halls gets composted. Certain infrastructure limitations are inevitable; however, groups like The Durango Food Bank work with 30 local agencies to meet the food needs of our community and play an important role in closing this looming gap. On campus, the Grub Hub also provides free food to students, and is an active group in creating a more socially just community. Keep those plates clean!

 

References:

Disturbing reality of our food waste.

Disturbing reality of our food waste.

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eat

https://www.nokidhungry.org/problem/hunger-facts

http://endhunger.org/PDFs/2014/USDA-FoodLoss-2014-Summary.pdf

http://endhunger.org/food_waste.htm

http://rt.com/usa/us-food-waste-usda-618/

 

The Durango Food Bank/Grub Hub links:

https://www.facebook.com/DurangoFoodBank/info

http://www.fortlewis.edu/news/StudentCalendar/ModuleID/15695/ItemID/13028/mctl/EventDetails.aspx

This I Believe: Meaningful, green decisions

 

Purchasing with the environment in mind.

Purchasing with the environment in mind.

By Leah Payne; Zero Waste Team member

I believe in the power of the consumer. I am a sophomore in college, living in my first apartment and I believe I can make meaningful decisions about what I buy. I think it is important to make thoughtful decisions around consumption during this critical habit-forming stage of my life. If I develop green habits now, chances are I will continue them into adulthood. I believe in being a smart consumer, where careful consideration goes into purchases, especially when the intent is to be mindful of the environment. I believe in practicing the first three ideas in Juliet Schor’s Politics of consumption from her essay The New Politics of Consumption: Why American’s Want So Much More Than They Need.

  1. A right to a decent standard of living.

Schor wants the consumer to make a fundamental distinction between what they need and what they want. Although it might seem a bit cliché, the amount of unneeded items in your living space add up quickly. People are entitled to a decent standard of living, one that isn’t focused on the next new gadget.

  1. Quality of life rather than quantity of stuff.

Consumption is not the same as well-being. The more things you have doesn’t make you a happier person. If we focus on making money to obtain more things our family, leisure, and community time suffer. The capitalist focus could also have adverse impacts of growth on the natural environment and the potentially increase the gap between classes. We should focus on a better quality of life, rather than a quantity of stuff.

  1. Ecologically sustainable consumption.

Schor says consumers know far less about the environmental impacts of their daily consumption habits than they should. When I go to the store I like to ask myself a few simple questions before I decide what to buy.

Where does it come from?

What kind of process did it go through before it reached the shelves?

What is the packaging? Is there a choice between plastic or glass? Which product has the least amount of packing? Can the packing it’s contained in be recycled?

Can you repurpose something you already have or buy something secondhand?

Who am I supporting when I buy this product?

My experience with the Fort Lewis’s Environmental Center has allowed me to express my beliefs and values because it has brought me closer with people who are contentious about the environment and given me a safe space to understand and better articulate me ideas. I have become a part of the community of people who care and push each other to consider new ways of life around sustainability. I am a part of the Zero Waste team and we are trying to assess recycling in campus housing. This experience has shown me that sustainability is not a top priority to a majority of the campus and we are going to have utilize a bunch of different strategies to make sustainability a part of the normal way of life on campus. Through this work I express what I am passionate about and figure out how to educate others about why sustainability is important. I hope that eventually the EC’s community will spread campus wide.