Growing up in a small town in the Midwest, where corn and beef are abundant and slaughterhouses and grain bins are a way of life, I really never thought of the idea of food waste. Growing up, I had several friends who grew up on small rural farms. These families worked very hard planting and harvesting crops and raising animals such as cows, pigs and chickens. When food was harvested, nothing went to waste; at least as far as I knew. I remember stories from my Mom talking about butchering hogs on her family farm. They saved everything from the animal and put it to use. They would drain the blood from the animal and make blood sausage and they rendered the lard from the animal for later use. The thought of food waste simply never crossed my mind.
As an adult, I have worked in several different industries such as electrical supplies, lighting, aggregate and gas and oil. Approximately 3 years ago, I happened upon an opportunity that brought me into the world of food distribution. Knowing absolutely nothing about the industry (except my limited experience as a child), I found it fascinating to learn more about the industry I would now call home. I read several different books on food supply such as Fast Food Nation and Pandora’s Lunch Box. I will save those topics for another post. One day, though, one of my colleagues shared an article that talked about food waste in our nation. I was, to say the least, shocked at the amount of food we waste in our country.
According to a guardian report released in 2016, it is estimated that the US wastes approximately 50% of all the produce that is produced in the country.
50%!! That is insane to me. In a country that has an estimated 41 million people struggling with hunger, it is disturbing that we are sending 50% of the food we produce into landfills. What I discovered is that a large amount of our food waste relates to the aesthetics of the food we eat. Surely we have all gone to the grocery store and seen a brown blemish on an apple and skipped over it to find a “better” one. To this day I still find myself doing this. There was nothing wrong with that apple; it just wasn’t as pretty as some of the others. This is a mindset that will not be easily changed in our society; even for those of us that are close to the food industry.
Upon this discovery, I realized how fortunate I was to be so close to the food supply and to work for a company that not only supports small and local farms, but also works hard to remove the stigma behind “ugly food”.
Grower’s Organic works hard to eliminate food waste by providing discounted “ugly” items to customers such as restaurants.
Restaurants are simply going to chop the product to make an amazing dish. Nobody would ever know that the produce being used was “ugly” or had a bad spot on it before chopping it up. One bad apple does not spoil the whole bunch!
Further along in my journey, I happened to receive the opportunity to volunteer for a local charity packing food boxes. I was on my way to the facility and went in, only to find that I was at the wrong building. The building I arrived at was for produce and other perishable items; I was scheduled to work packing dry goods boxes. This got me thinking, “could they utilize some of the produce that we send to compost?” At the end of my shift, I inquired with the Director about their ability to take donations of produce for distribution to the less fortunate. Of course, she was grateful for the opportunity to receive donations for their program but what she told me next was yet another shock to me. She told me that there are often times that they have to turn away donations of fresh produce due to space and distribution limitations. She simply said to me, “there is not a lack of food for the hungry, there is a lack of distribution”. Again, this is so frustrating! We have the food, but as a nation, we cannot figure out or provide enough resources to get the food into the hands that need it most. We would rather throw it away than allocate additional resources into getting it to those in need.
Now, I don’t want to have people think of me as ignorant, as I know there is a lot that would go into getting this food to the people that need it and it is not just as easy as saying build it and they will come. There is so much work to be done to make food waste less of a reality. I love seeing that some of our welfare programs are working to put more of a focus on the value of fresh fruits and vegetables and are taking action to make them a part of certain subsidized programs. This is definitely a start. It will take all of us working together to lessen the amount of food waste in our society. Now tell me, which apple will you choose the next time you go to the grocery store?
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