The amount of food wasted in our nation is stunning.
“In the United States, 31 percent — or 133 billion pounds — of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
From the point of view of a food business, this statistic erodes already slim profit margins. The USDA goes on to say, “the estimated value of this food loss (in 2010) was $161.6 billion using retail prices.” To bring that down to earth for us, here’s a quote from ‘80’s television icon Mr. T, “That ain’t no chump change!”
Then there’s the other perspective — of families in need looking for where their next meal will come. Imagine how difficult it is to hear these numbers as a small family working hard to make ends meet. It would be frustrating and anger-inducing, to say the least.
The average moderately active American adult needs to consume approximately 2,200 calories of food every day. The USDA calculated calories from the food waste represented above equals “141 trillion calories in 2010 or 1,249 calories per capita.” We are throwing away enough food each year to meet the dietary needs of half the country’s population.
So what do we do about it?
There are many people in this country already hard at work trying to solve this problem. The reality is that while we’ve spoken of these numbers on a national scale, the solutions are almost all local.
The best example of meeting this local challenge comes from the aptly named Traverse City-based Food Rescue of Northwest Michigan. This organization is a program of Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan.Their quiet work helped rescue more than 1 million pounds of fresh, nutritious, perishable food in the region last year. This five-county operation puts rescued food in the hands of people in need through meal sites and food pantries.
And there are others. Gleaners volunteer their time in many counties to pick vegetables and fruit from farms that cannot sell the crops. In some communities, farmers grow extra crops for the gleaners to take. They donate this otherwise lost food to pantries and shelters.
Taste the Local Difference is partnering with Food Rescue this year to add a powerful new tool to our community’s collection of resources. OnePantry.org is an online tool that is designed to make finding donated food easy for consumers. The group’s innovation, however, is that is will encourage food businesses — restaurants, institutions, wholesale distributors, and retailers — to connect directly to the food pantries and meal sites that make the food available to those in need. The online tool will also help track numbers from both sides of the equation.
TLD is also working with Food Rescue to examine the potential of using agricultural deer block permits to provide a source of meat protein to food pantries that would otherwise go to waste. Visit foodrescuenw.org or onepantry.org for more information and to learn how you can play a role in stopping food waste and help to feed hungry families in northwest Michigan.
Bill Palladino directs Taste the Local Difference and is co-chair of the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network.