Food Waste: Food For Thought
With Thanksgiving officially done and dusted, we can now sit back and reflect on the amount of food that is consumed, and wasted, during this traditional annual celebratory feast. Thanksgiving, which traditionally began as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest, is an annual celebration where families and friends get together over a meal to celebrate, count their blessings, and give thanks. It typically involves a vast spread of food, including roast turkey with all the trimmings. More often than not the excessive amount of food prepared for the occasion simply cannot be physically consumed by those attending the feast. As a result, so much food goes to waste at this time of year, most of it ending up rotting on a landfill. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), over the 2016 Thanksgiving holiday in the US, â€œsix million turkeysâ€”a value of roughly $293 millionâ€”ended up in the trash.â€ Six million turkeys killed only to be disposed of in the trash. That is insane. Firstly to produce that much discarded turkey â€œrequires an estimated more than 100 billion gallons of water (enough to supply New York City for 100 days). And when it comes to climate pollution, it wastes emissions equivalent to driving a car across the country 800,000 times.â€ The amount of food wasted each year is staggering. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, approximately 40% of all food produced in the US each year goes uneaten, while the FOA estimates that one third of all the food that is produced around the world each year goes to waste. This is not only a waste of food, but also a waste of valuable resources such as water, energy, agricultural land and labor that were used to produce the food that in the end simply went to waste. Food waste occurs all along the supply chain from farms to supermarkets to consumers. According to a report produced by the National Resources Defense Council, one out of every seven truckloads of perishables delivered to supermarkets are eventually tossed due to overstocking, misleading sell-by-date labels, or not meeting aesthetic standards. Considering that 42.2 million Americans together with millions of other people around the world go hungry each day, this is extremely wasteful. According to FAO, just a quarter of all the food wasted would be sufficient to feed 870 million people. If we take into account the amount of carbon dioxide produced along the supply chain (including production, transportation, disposal) the contribution of food waste to climate change is alarming. Furthermore, because food waste is organic, when it breaks down on a landfill, methane â€” a potent greenhouse gas â€” is released, contributing to further to climate change. However, there are several measures we can take to reduce the amount of food waste that ends up on the landfill, which will in turn reduce the environmental impact of food waste. The EPA proposes a Food Recovery Hierarchy as illustrated below.
Reducing The Amount Of Food WasteUltimately, reducing the amount of excess food prepared for an occasion such as Thanksgiving seems like an obvious solution, and it is without doubt a good place to start. But this may not be that simple. As no host wants their guests to leave the table feeling hungry, most prefer to play it safe and over cater. But an ingenious solution to this dilemma is on hand. SAVETHEFOOD.COM have an online food calculator â€” called the Guest-imator â€” that allows dinner party hosts to estimate how much food they need to prepare to keep their guests full and content. The calculator can be used to calculate food requirements of guests attending traditional Thanksgiving meals, as well as for vegetarian and other meals, helping to reduce food waste. They also have some creative ideas on how to use left over food to prevent it from being wasted. Another option is to donate any leftovers or surplus food to an organization that will redistribute it to the needy. This reduces waste and alleviates hunger. If you have chickens, rabbits, dogs, or other animals, food scraps can be used to supplement their feed, providing your pets and animals with a varied diet. It is inevitable that some food will always go to waste. But instead of discarding food waste on a landfill, it can be used more productively. For example it can be composted and used to enhance garden soil, or it can be used as feed stock for anaerobic biodigesters that convert organic waste into biogas by capturing the methane that is released during the decomposition process. This not only captures the methane for use as a valuable source of natural energy, but also prevents methane from being released into the atmosphere where it contributes to warming.
Featured Image by Phil Denton, via Flickr