I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that you, reader, love food. I mean, how could you not? It seems our entire culture is centered around food. Meals are social events, dishes are an expression of our individual cultures, and our tastes are representations of who we are as people. As a collective whole, we spend $1.46 TRILLION dollars on food, whether it be at the grocery store or out at restaurants. We buy and consume a pretty large amount of food. However, with great consumption comes great waste, and food waste has been a major problem. Connecticut alone throws away 522,000 tons of food each year, composed of leftovers, scraps, even fresh produce and meats. For a society who has become increasingly conscious of where our food comes from, we seem to not care where it goes after it serves its purpose.
When fighting the battle against food insecurity and hunger, it is not good enough to simply donate to food pantries or hold canned food drives. We must be more mindful of what we use, what we eat, and how we dispose of food waste. Food waste in Connecticut is second only to paper in what is most found in our garbage cans, and accounts for 40 million tons of all material sent to incinerators and landfills. These 40 million tons contribute harmful greenhouse gases to the environment, such as carbon and methane, which are the backbone for the global climate crisis. A better alternative to throwing out scraps such as egg shells, peels, or tea bags would be to compost. Composting is simple, cheap, and positively affects the environment by removing those greenhouse gas emissions while also generating high quality, natural soils. The groundwork is being laid for composting to become a more popular and more accessible solution. We can all help this movement grow by doing our part in our own backyards.
Here at United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, we do as much as we can to prevent food waste and to find ways to repurpose food. For example, in June I volunteered alongside United Way employees and volunteers from General Dynamics-Electric Boat and the EB Employees’ Community Services Association to collect food at a commercial food expo. There were hundreds and hundreds of vendors there, with everything from granola bars and snacks to fancy noodles and rice. After the expo, a significant amount of food was just abandoned there. Our team went through the entire showing area with boxes in hand, and collected eight full pallets of this fresh, nutritious food in just one hour. This food was then sorted, counted, and brought to our Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Bank. Seeing firsthand how much good food can go to waste really sickened me, and while we could not realistically take everything that was available, we certainly grabbed most of it and then MADE the most of it.
Our Food Bank also has a fantastic program in place with local grocery stores, where we can “shop” from a selection of foods that are no longer on store shelves but are still fresh and can be used to feed individuals who are food insecure. All the foods we gather from these stores is also donated to the Food Bank, where they are put on shelves for our local member agencies and other organizations or put on our Mobile Food Pantry van. This allows us to save and provide even more fresh food that would have otherwise been wasted.
Becoming more aware of food scarcity and the need for food in my community has definitely driven me to take more action. I used to be the person who wouldn’t eat an apple because it had the tiniest of tiny spots on the skin, even if it was the most gorgeous apple in the orchard. But now, rather than tossing it in the trash or cutting a chunk of the skin off, I’ve grown to appreciate the blessing that is having a consistent supply of food, and the privilege to even be picky about foods. It is the ultimate sin to throw out food that is perfectly good and fit for consumption. I’ve taken many steps to greatly reduce the amount of food that I throw away, finding creative ways to use leftovers whenever possible and making sure to use foods up before they rot or go bad. Unnecessary food waste is a serious issue, and it is one we all have a duty to fight head on, at the front lines. We are directly responsible for how we consume. It is in our best interests, the community’s best interests, and the planet’s best interest, to behave responsibly.