It’s spring cleaning time and you or someone in your household sets out to clean the refrigerator. Check those packaged products with a “use by” date long past. Out they go, along with some moldy bread. A half quart of milk smells funny—it’s curdled and sour. Down the drain it goes. Wilted lettuce doesn’t look appetizing so it joins the other food throwaways, along with food items you just don’t want anymore.
When I clean out my refrigerator, I often think about my mom and her “waste not, want not” maxim she lived by. Once, while visiting, I cleaned out her refrigerator and found quite a few items that were no longer edible (her eyesight was failing at the time). One of the items was a head of cauliflower that had been in the refrigerator so long that it was sprouting purple flowers! Of course, the cauliflower ended up in the garbage.
Americans throw away 63 billion tons of food each year, and 43 percent of that comes from U.S. households. A Natural Resources Defense Council study found that 68 percent of household food that is trashed is still edible. “In the United States, over one-third of all available food goes uneaten through loss or waste….When food is tossed aside, so too are opportunities for healthier communities, economic growth, and environmental prosperity.” So states the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Along with households, restaurants, supermarkets, school cafeterias, and other food service industries contribute to the tons of food waste. Restaurants usually throw away leftovers at the end of the serving day. Donating edible leftover food can be risky if it is not properly refrigerated or served in a safe environment. In addition, unless places like those sheltering the homeless are nearby, delivering food is not cost effective for a restaurant.
People who frequently “eat out,” can reduce food waste by ordering smaller portions or taking home leftovers to consume the next day (or before food ends up spoiled and is tossed into the garbage). Supermarkets are able to salvage some foods by donating damaged cans and cartons of food to charitable organizations serving the “food insecure”—the term government official use for hungry people. At least 40 million Americans are food insecure
On April 3, 2019, the Washington Post published a feature about “food insecure” students at Woodland Elementary School in Elkhart, Indiana. At the school, needy students receive free or reduced-price lunches, but on the weekend their families have little food. To address the problem, Woodland School is participating in a pilot program, a nonprofit called Cultivate. Through the program, leftover cafeteria food is used to create frozen meals that food insecure students can take home to eat over the weekend. Social workers and Cultivate determine which students are most in need. The students receive insulated backpacks and eight frozen meals to eat over the weekend.
Before the Woodland program, Cultivate had started piloting a school-lunch program at Madison STEAM Academy in South Bend, Indiana. “The group provides weekend meals for 100 students at that school, and the food comes from donors such as the University Of Notre Dame, a partner, as well as local event spaces and catering services,” the Post reported.
Two federal government programs that help hungry families and individuals is the Agricultural Department’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. These are federally funded and the programs have been under scrutiny by the Trump administration. But I won’t get started on that!