By Ivory King
Hunger, food scarcity, food deserts - these are present all over the United States. While it is shocking that a country that considers itself the forefront of development could have such a basic concern as feeding its population so underserved, the flipside of this is equally true - our country simultaneously wastes a huge amount of food. Addressing this disparity are a number of organizations, app developers and tech engineers, hoping to lower the ecological and economic impact of food industry waste by redistributing it to families that don’t get enough to eat.
Who are the people not getting enough to eat? The hungry in the US are found all over the country - in every single county. DoSomething.org counts 1 in 6 people facing hunger, but 1 in 5 households with children suffer from food insecurity - a lack of access to enough food for everyone. For children specifically, this risk goes up significantly for people of color: though 1 in 5 children are at risk of hunger, it’s 1 in 3 for African-American and Latino kids. But in America the lack of food access isn’t because there isn’t enough to go around - food insecurity rates are directly linked to poverty.
As these people go hungry, 40 percent of food in the US is thrown out - about $165 billion worth - enough to feed 25 million of our 40 million hungry fellow Americans. The majority of food waste occurs either in food-related businesses (restaurants and grocery stores) or in people’s homes. The EPA has found that wasted food takes up the most space in landfills, due to the relative cheapness of subsidized crops, compounded with our tendency to only choose the most attractive of produce and let the rest go bad. Not only does most of the food we throw away end up in landfills instead of being composted, families waste $1600 per year on uneaten food.
Grocery stocking platform Wasteless monitors the sell-by dates and product levels. The system uses dynamic pricing to encourage shoppers to buy items when they are approaching their sell-by date. The closer to the product expiration date, the cheaper it is. Wasteless also has a more detailed way of monitoring stock levels so grocery stores have more information to base ordering on. Between these 2 platform features, Wasteless brings machine learning that usually only e-commerce can access to brick-and-mortar stores.
In the restaurant industry, pressure to prioritize volume and speed can often make efficiency and sustainability take the back seat. But for some, reducing food waste can be a source of inspiration. New York’s Graffiti Earth restaurant privileges vegetables on their menu, not shying away from the uglier or roughly-treated produce that often ends up unsold at markets - or as head chef Jehangir Mehta refers to it as “unloved produce.” He also pays attention to underused seafood, proteins and grains in a cohesive food waste reduction plan.
There are so many ways that the huge amount of produce and ingredients can be incorporated into useful menu components - pineapple and cucumber trimmings used to flavor drinks, vegetable ends and scraps saved for the stock pot. Mehta also reuses breakfast items in the lunch menu, using oatmeal for baked goods and unused proteins to fill dumplings.
Another way that restaurants can reduce waste is with incentivizing sales of leftover product at the end of their business day. Mobile app ToGoodToGo connects customers with restaurants that are about to close, they pay on the app and pick up discounted meals. It’s a simple and effective way for both vendors and diners to make the system a little more efficient.
Reducing waste in food businesses would have a huge impact on grocery stores and restaurants. One could dream that the savings from such adjustments could be passed on to the consumer - that’s hard to predict. But the impact that it would make on our landfills is beneficial to everyone. The strategies for lowering waste in the home are quite different, and worthy of its own post. There are less apps involved - it’s mostly about proper planning and storage. But this can not only save you a lot of money but you can also be happy that you’re not adding to the 21 percent of landfill that is made up of food waste.