Ben Simon, founder and executive director of Food Recovery Network (FRN), introduced the food waste panel with enthusiasm. Simon says that he founded the FRN because, “America does not have a food shortage problem. We have a food distribution problem.” He estimated that if we reduced our food waste by 15 percent, we could feed an additional 25 million people.
The moderator for this panel was Daniel Reed, director of Planet Forward. Reed’s organization is an initiative of The George Washington University that focuses on engaging young people. Reed set the tone for the panelists with his observation, “If food waste was a country, it would be number three in the world in greenhouse gas production.”
Brian Lipinski is an associate for the World Resources Institute’s Food Program who is currently involved in the development of the Food Loss and Water initiative. Lipinski takes issue with people who use the terms “food loss” and “food waste” interchangeably. He clarifies that food loss is what happens between the field and the vendor, whereas food waste is what happens between the vendor and the consumer.
Dr. Jean Buzby, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service Program Manager, defines food waste as the “edible amount of post-harvest food that is not eaten.” Her research data reflect that approximately 31 percent of food loss in the U.S. happens at the retail and consumer levels. The total value of this wasted food adds up to approximately US$161.6 billion each year
DC Central Kitchen’s Mike Curtin cites his experience as a restaurant entrepreneur in his ability to see the value in what would otherwise be wasted food. In this panel discussion, Curtin cited the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act as a primary piece of legislation that allows for the collection and redistribution of wasted food. Curtin states that “40-60 percent of all the food never makes it off the farm due to size and shape, not nutrients or taste.”
Patricia Beneke, U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) Director and Regional Representative for the UNEP’s Regional Office, says that “Food is a big deal with the United Nations.” Beneke takes issue with clarifying the nomenclature of food waste. She says, “North Americans have a problem with food waste,” and this problem is compounded by the fact that 1/3 of adults in the United States are obese.
Jordan Figueiredo represents Feedback, which hosted “the Woodstock of food waste”: the Feeding the 5,000 event in Oakland, CA. He pushed to embrace and repurpose “ugly food.” He charged his fellow panelists, audience members, and video participants to “take back your plate.”
Meghan Stasz, Senior Director for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, spoke about the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, which was formed in 2011 to address the challenge of food waste in the supply chain. In her remarks, Stasz stated that there is tremendous need for Alliance members to form partnerships with food banks, pantries, and organizations like DC Central Kitchen, so that they can repurpose excess food. She says that the three goals of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance are to reduce the amount of food waste being generated, increase the amount of food being recovered/donated, and diverting inconsumable food from landfills. “We want to donate as much nutritious and safe food as we can.”
Written by Melissa Terry, Food Tank Volunteer