The Food Waste Paradox And Local Efforts To End It
As epicures, we tend to put a lot of energy into thinking about what we eat: reading cookbook reviews, agonizing over which farmers market to visit or meticulously researching the latest food trends. It’s easy to pat ourselves on the backs for filling our canvas bags with fair-trade and line-caught delicacies and drown our cognitive dissonance in a craft cocktail, but it is just as important to consider what we don’t eat.
About one third (or 133 billion pounds) of our national food supply is wasted, across all levels of the food supply chain. Costing over $165 billion annually, food waste depletes massive amounts of fresh water and land—being the single biggest contributor to municipal solid waste in landfills, the third-largest source of methane gas emissions in the United States. All this while, paradoxically, one-sixth of Americans don’t have enough to eat. And the numbers in Silicon Valley are even bleaker, with a staggering one in four individuals in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties at risk of hunger.
In an attempt to address this serious and growing problem, USDA and EPA announced in September 2015 the nation’s first food waste reduction goal—a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030. In support, “the federal government will lead a new partnership with charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, the private sector and local, state and tribal governments to reduce food loss and waste in order to improve overall food security and conserve our nation’s natural resources.”
At the state level, California encourages food scrap management on every level, from stadiums and festivals to factories, schools and offices, down to individual households. (Find a wealth of resources at CalRecycle.ca.gov/organics/food/.)
In Silicon Valley, the epicenter of technotopian solutions, we have no shortage of activists, developers, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists working hard to address the paradoxical problems of hunger and food waste. Here are some opportunities to get involved.
Local Efforts to Combat Waste
Bay Area Recycling Outreach Coalition: an innovative collaboration between 40 Bay Area cities, counties and public agencies that have joined forces to reduce waste through awareness campaigns like #shopyourfridgefirst that use social media to encourage thoughtful meal planning and resourceful use of leftovers.
Second Harvest Food Bank of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties: distributes millions of pounds of nutritious food—much donated—to nearly a quarter million local residents monthly, through programs like their ProduceMobile, which delivers fresh food to low-income households, and partnerships with nonprofits such as soup kitchens and food pantries.
City of Palo Alto’s zero waste program: includes a new residential food scraps collection initiative, making it easy for residents to compost—saving water and keeping organic matter out of landfills.
EndFoodWaste.org: aims to “connect and ignite the movement to end food waste” through forums, petitions, community resources and campaigns such as @uglyfruitandveg, which pressures big grocers to keep cosmetically imperfect produce on their shelves rather than toss it—and encourages consumers to buy it.
Revive Foods: partners with Whole Foods Oakland, Good Eggs, the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market and organic produce distributor Veritable Vegetable to source organic and non-GMO surplus fruit for their jams, which are low in sugar and minimally refined.
WasteNoFood.org: offers a web-based “marketplace” to connect farms, hotels, cafeterias, grocers and restaurants (including notable locals Manresa and Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Co.) with vetted charities such as food pantries and homeless shelters in their area—reducing disposal costs and streamlining the donations.
Feeding Forward: provides a website and mobile app platform for businesses with surplus food to easily and instantly connect with communities in need, thereby leveraging technology to facilitate food recovery and re-distribution. Since its inception in 2013, Feeding Forward has fed almost 600,000 people in the Bay Area.