Waste Not, Want Not: The Food-Energy Link

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A City Harvest volunteer picks up waste food from restaurants and delivers it to residents in need via a City Harvest bike cart.
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A hybrid-electric City Harvest truck unloads a fresh produce delivery.

Though most of us acknowledge that we live in a wasteful society (and work to reduce wastefulness in our homes and lives), a new study highlights our nation’s astronomical levels of food waste. More than a quarter of the food produced in the United States ends up in the garbage, according to the study from Environmental Science and Technology journal, based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And, though many experts think that figure is probably too low, at that rate, we’re also throwing away the approximately 350 million barrels of oil required to create that much food.

Fortunately, there are several ways we can work to curb food waste and improve these bleak statistics. Part of the solution may be found in agricultural policy reform. The government’s complicated subsidy system encourages a massive overproduction of food, which is responsible for much of the waste. (To get a handle on the U.S. agricultural subsidy policy and its effects, farm.ewg.org and dtnprogressivefarmer.com are tremendous resources.)

But some of the solution can be found in our own kitchens. Today’s Americans toss food down the drain and into the garbage can in ways that would make our thrifty grandparents shudder. If we learned to plan meals and stock pantries more effectively, we could divert much of that waste in our own homes.

Kitchen Conservation

By shopping and cooking wisely, we can reduce the amount of food waste we produce in our own homes, thereby reducing the amount of fuel required to produce and send new food to our grocery stores. (Bonus: We save money, too!)

• Eat seasonal, locally grown and produced foods as much as possible to reduce the energy required for storage and transportation.

• Use the food you have at home before buying more. Before heading to the grocery store, take stock in your pantry, fridge and freezer. Make a shopping list to avoid buying items you already have.

• Buy staples in bulk to reduce packaging waste. Share large orders of perishable items with friends.

• Store foods properly. Store vegetables in breathable containers with a piece of scrap paper to absorb moisture. Store nuts in the freezer. For a bunch of clever storage tips, visit lovefoodhatewaste.com

• Recycle leftovers into new meals. Pop a single serving of leftovers into a freezer bag for a perfect quick meal for one.

• Turn soon-to-go-bad produce and meat into freezable broths, sauces or meals such as casseroles.

• Add vegetable and meat trimmings to a “stew jar” in the freezer. When it’s full, time to get cooking!

• Compost. Compost. Compost. Composting food waste such as apple cores and eggshells transforms it into a nutrient-rich soil amendment, plus it eliminates the fuel associated with shipping and processing food waste.

• Work with a food bank or food rescue agency. Ask local farmers if they have excess they could donate. (See “Rescued Harvest” below for more information.)

Rescued Harvest

Founded in New York in the 1980s, City Harvest proves it’s possible to keep 30 million pounds of food out of landfills and feed 300,000 hungry citizens–free of charge.

How does it work?

Volunteers pick up unused food from restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers and farms. The food is delivered to community food organizations throughout New York City via a fleet of trucks, bicycles and volunteers on foot.

Impressive Stats

• Last year, City Harvest rescued 28.6 million pounds of excess food–including 17.6 million pounds of fresh produce.
• City Harvest feeds more than 300,000 hungry New Yorkers each week.
• It only costs 23 cents for City Harvest to rescue and deliver a pound of food.
• City Harvest’s entire fleet of trucks employs the most current, environmentally friendly technology.

Feeding Bellies and Minds

City Harvest hopes to address hunger’s causes, too. The agency promotes initiatives that make food more affordable in low-income communities, and hosts a variety of programs that educate people about diet-related illness and healthy cooking.

Find a Resource in Your Community

Search charitynavigator.org to find a local food bank. Call them to see if there is a food rescue or fresh food component to the work they do, and volunteer your time or resources. Also ask if they need donated food and whether the food you wish to donate can be safely accepted.

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