We’ve all wasted food. Those leftovers that no longer seem appetizing, the produce that went bad before we used it — most of us are guilty. This summer, I left on a road trip and forgot to put a nice loaf of bread in the freezer, resulting in one of those green “science experiments.”
That’s sad, but when you place it on a global scale, food waste is staggering. In the film, “Just Eat It,” the producers examine why we waste so much food and discover that a huge percentage of produce never makes it to the grocers because it’s deemed too misshapen, unsightly, imperfect. If you think these odd fruits or veggies all end up as juice, think again. Most end up in the dump.
A still from the film shows a man standing on an enormous pile of what appears to be good-looking bananas, all rejected because they don’t measure up to the exact standards of size and curvature deemed appropriate for the market. When I think of the overripe bananas I’ve saved from the trash by making banana bread, that pile of bananas seems heartbreaking.
Part of the waste stems from those misunderstood “sell by” dates, or from a misprint on a label that sends boxes of otherwise great food to the dumpster.
Beth Ostdiek Smith wanted to do something about food waste, so she founded something called Saving Grace, which is “a perishable food rescue” nonprofit in Omaha, Nebraska. Saving Grace has no warehouse and doesn’t collect the usual canned goods. Instead, with two refrigerated trucks, they repurpose perishable food from grocers, restaurants or caterers within 48 hours. Food is picked up in the morning and delivered that same day to shelters or food programs for the needy.
Recently, I heard Beth speak. Two questions she asked got my attention immediately: Did we know that one in five children in the Omaha area goes to bed nightly in a situation of food insecurity? And did we know that food waste is the single biggest item in our city landfills?
Unfortunately, those two statistics are probably similar for most of the U.S.
Saving Grace will help sponsor “Feeding the 5000 Omaha” in October, an event that promotes food waste awareness and is a catalyst for action. Area chefs create great soup from rejected food — the misshapen potato, the unsightly beet, the bruised onion, and treat the crowds to lunch.
Organizers say the first “Feeding the 5000” event, with its allusion to Jesus feeding the crowd in Matthew 14:13-21, was held in London’s Trafalgar Square in 2009. From there, it spread throughout Europe and now the world.
There’s music, events for kids, booths for nonprofits — food for thought as well as food for the body.
Pope Francis says we live in a “culture of waste” and that food thrown away is like stealing from the poor. Indeed, our massive food waste has environmental, societal and moral repercussions. We can help by making sure we eat more nutritionally, locally, and not to excess, and keeping tabs on our refrigerator and pantry.
But we can also find out more about local efforts to repurpose and save food. I’m going to help peel vegetables during our local “Feeding the 5000” and I’ll let you know what I learn.