Many children over the years have been warned to “clean (your) plate.” However, one trip to the local deli inside a Walmart or perhaps to a buffet-style restaurant and one will see a great deal of food left over at closing time. Many delis and restaurants have policies which stipulate that any food left over must be disposed of as a part of cleaning the business. It’s easy to see that this is a huge waste of food, but regulations or policy dictate that it must be done.
Employees are forced to throw the food away. It is not given to food banks, and employees aren’t allowed (in some businesses) to carry leftovers home to their family. This is a huge waste of food, but it’s only a drop in the bucket compared to overall food waste in the United States.
Experts relate that forty percent of the food produced in America is wasted. Some experts refer to this staggering amount of waste as “scandalous.”
Food waste, however, is more than just the food thrown away at restaurants or even from our own kitchens. Labor that is put into growing, harvesting, and preparing food as it makes its way to our kitchen tables is part of the waste. Worsening the equation is the addition of food deserts, places where people cannot access a supermarket or grocery store in which to purchase healthy food.
According to a study by Project Drawdown, if we think of food waste as a country of its own, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases behind the United States and China. Other studies present that up to eleven percent of greenhouse gases could be eradicated if food waste were eliminated.
Food waste is complicated; there are many factors that make up food waste, and it starts all the way back in the supply chain. Experts believe that too much food is being produced, which is a waste of natural resources. Add to that, fertilizer on crops affects the soil and emissions; the harvesting and packaging of the food also produces greenhouse gases. When this is added to strained resources, the ingredients make a disastrous recipe.
Certainly, the transportation of food adds to greenhouse gas emissions, but food waste that ends up in the landfill releases methane gas, which is a surprise for most Americans.
So, what is the answer for tackling food waste? Do people simply resort to going vegan? A biosystems engineer professor at the University of Minnesota says no. According to Jason Hill, “We can eat better, healthier foods. We can improve how we grow foods. And we can waste less food.”
In order to do this, people around the world should eat a diet that is closer to the recommended 2,000 calories per day. This in itself would eliminate up to 450 billion tons of greenhouse emissions. Better farming practices, including using less fertilizer and improving the rotation of crops, would cut out approximately 600 billion tons of those greenhouse gasses.
Perhaps one of the most important ways that food waste can be eliminated would also be beneficial to those living in food deserts. Food deserts can occur anywhere; they can pop up in urban neighborhoods where individuals may not have access to a local grocery store in the neighborhood, but they can also be found in very rural areas where grocery stores are thirty, forty, fifty miles or more away from a person’s home. When people utilize local convenience stores for food or shop at places like the Dollar General (known for popping up in these rural areas), they may not have access to fresh produce (some Dollar Generals DO provide produce, but it is not present in every store).
These individuals living in a food desert often have to hop on a bus and travel several blocks to find a supermarket that offers fresher, healthier food choices. This also contributes to food waste.
However, some urban communities are created neighborhood gardens (hydroponic gardens can be built in a relatively small space) where locals can access vegetables for a small fee or for swapping out labor in the garden. Those living in rural areas often utilize their land to raise crops and to house chickens for eggs. These measures will help to eliminate a great deal of food waste and make a huge impact on climate change.