Religious : : Thoughts from Our Rabbi

The problem of ‘food waste’ should concern all of us. Food waste is a serious social problem. According to a USDA study, more than 130 billion pounds of food (31% of food at retail/consumer levels) went un-eaten in 2010. Yet, hunger remains an issue in our society, with roughly 50 million Americans (one in six) experiencing food insecurity. Discarding so much food when it could be redirected to feed the hungry is a cruel paradox.

We still typically think of hunger as lacking enough food. It is increasingly an issue of nutrition . Food insecure individuals cannot get enough high quality calories (fruits and vegetables) needed to maintain a healthy life style. As a result, there is more obesity and diet-related illness. One third of U.S. adults is obese, along with 17% of young people ages 2 – 19.

Fresh produce and dairy due to their perishable nature are a significant component of the food waste stream. Yet by discarding fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat proteins, we miss the opportunity to provide the nutritious food many people desperately need.

There is a larger issue as well. Combined hunger and nutrition concerns perpetuate a division between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in our society. Excessive food waste is a missed opportunity to mitigate hunger and to improve nutrition.

Food waste represents a waste of all the water, energy and resources that went into producing it. Wasted water is critical as agriculture consumes 70% of available fresh water. The value of wasted food in 2010 was estimated at $160 billion.

How can we waste so much food , so easily, when 50 million citizens are hungry? We’ve moved from a culture of responsibility in the post-WWII years, when food was truly valued out of necessity, to a culture of abundance. Which allows us to waste 30-40% of all food produced with seemingly little concern.

We are surrounded by vast quantities of food everywhere we go . Food is available at all hours, in perfect size, shape, freshness and appearance. When we shop, we skip over items with the slightest imperfection. Retailers continually cull items from shelves, while we consumers, confused by the meaning of date labels, are quick to discard items we ‘think’ may have gone bad.

Large amounts of fruits and vegetables never leave the farm, as growers sort out items that don’t meet exacting retail specifications. Food is abundant, and relatively inexpensive, and trash is cheap. That combination has led to excessive food waste here and in other developed countries. We should no longer see this situation as acceptable.

Urgent change is needed at all levels, local, regional, national, global, to reduce food waste. All stakeholders in our food system must play a role.: consumers, growers, manufacturers, retailers, and governments. If we have the will such change can be expected to yield social, environmental and financial benefits. More important is the moral imperative: reducing food waste and re-directing those resources to feed our neighbors, improve health, and build community is simply the right thing to do. Bring non-perishable food items to our lobby bin and consider a donation to Mazon.

B’vrachot, blessings,
Rabbi Dennis