What This Blog Is About
This blog is about a harmful, depraved, morbid and epidemic condition plaguing the planet. It is an acquired condition, both a product of and a scourge on the environment on which we depend for our very existence. In fact, one might argue that the case of food waste disease, with which we are collectively afflicted, is in Stage 4 of its pathogenesis. Fortunately, however, precisely because it is an acquired condition, we are not powerless; we do not have to resign ourselves to the inevitability of food waste disease and its attendant economic, environmental, and social consequences. That is also what this blog is about. We have the information and the technology to affect a cure for food waste disease, to send it into remission. We have the wherewithal, notwithstanding the urgency. Do we have the will?
Overweight and Underfed
According a 2012 study conducted by the nonprofit, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), of the 121.6 billion pounds of food thrown away or wasted in America, in 2011, residential consumers accounted for 44% or 54 billion pounds. (See Figure 1 below) In other words, in a country where 1 in 3 adults is obese while 1 in 6 (16 million children), is food insecure –do not have access to adequate nutrition, we throw away 21% of the food we purchase. This is not only paradoxical it borders on the insane. How is it possible to be both overweight and underfed? Moreover, why do consumers, apparently without compunction, as if in some drug-induced stupor, throw so much food away? These and other provocative questions will be the subject of future posts.
Fig. 1 - Based on a 2012 BSR study, the residential and restaurant, including the institutional, sectors, accounted for 87% or106 million pounds of the food wasted in the U.S.in 2011.
You Do Miss What You (Don’t) Measure
Anybody who knows me knows I love the restaurant business. I love restaurant people. I am a certified gourmet live-food chef. I opened the first and only live-food, vegan restaurant in the state of Mississippi. The idea for WasteNEGATIVE, and the food waste detection and prevention software products we will be launching soon, grew out of that experience. It was an endeavor fraught with challenges, not the least of which was a lack of capital, exacerbated by the fact that all of the menu items were fashioned from fresh, organic fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. I got acquainted, rather quickly, with the economics of food waste on a very visceral level. Of course, I would later discover that I was not alone in my predicament. All restaurants live with food waste disease. Some do so in quiet desperation, quarantining the cost to a “manageable” percentage of revenues, to manage the pain if you will. Others are prescribed solutions that, while well-intentioned, turn out to be placebos that, at best, only marginally address food waste disease and even then as an unintended, unexpected coincidence. In either case, the net effect is that restaurants, including the institutional sector, account for 43% (See figure 1 above) or of the food wasted in America. To put a finer point on it, for every $1000 in revenue a restaurant generates, it throws away, on average, 33 pounds of food, 4% - 10% of which is so-called pre-consumer waste. That’s the bad news. The good news is that restaurants also have the most to gain, at least economically, from fighting food waste disease. In a study, entitled The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste, authors Craig Hanson, Global Director of Food, Waste, and Water at WRI, and WRAP’s Head of Economics, Peter Mitchell, report on, among other things, the potential benefit-cost ratio incurred by different entities, including, municipalities, countries and numerous businesses. The median ratio was 14:1 –every dollar spent in the battle against food waste disease returned $14. The highest potential return on investment accrued to restaurants. Operators, who measure, monitor, and minimize, can realize a return of as much as $618 on every $1 used to reduce food waste. Furthermore, financial benefits are not the only dividends restaurants miss out on by opting not to join the fight.
Diners or Dumpsters?
Whether it is leftover meatloaf at the kitchen table, pan-seared scallops at the chef’s table at your favorite restaurant, or a hungry child scavenging for food in a landfill, we’re all diners, all 7.5 billion of us. We live off the biosphere, the land, the water, and the atmosphere. The ecosystem has carried us for the last 6 million years, at least. From the beginning, the planet nurtured us, clothed and provided us with shelter. She also fed us. In the beginning, we had to work for it, hunting and gathering. And although the work was hard and was not always met with success, it connected us to her and the other sentient beings she supported. After what must have seemed an endless cycle of feast and famine, we, by trial and error, with deductive reasoning, and determination, finally coaxed out her the secrets of agriculture and surplus. As a result, heretofore, food has been relatively cheap and readily accessible especially in developed countries. Such abundance and variety has allowed us to be more selective regarding both the price and the appearance of the food we purchase. Wholesalers and retailers, in deference to the consumer’s demand for the aesthetically pleasing, only accept perfectly shaped produce from their growers; deformed, yet perfectly edible rejects are left to rot in the field. In the interest of freshness, chefs toss the slightly bruised head of lettuce, which, somehow, escaped detection, by kitchen staff, into the garbage bin.
Unfortunately, perhaps even predictably, this emphasis on aesthetics and freshness, exacerbated by a reliance ambiguous use-by and/or sell by dates has led to an enantiodromia of sorts. Americans throw away enough food every day to fill the Rose Bowl, over 97% of which, according to the EPA, ends up in landfills. (See figure 2.) Anaerobic digestion of food waste by bacteria in landfills produces copious amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas, by some estimates, 72% more potent than carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gases warm the planet, compromising her ability to carry us – her ability to support life. As well, food waste is about more than just food. Getting food from the field to the table accounts for 10% of the country’s energy budget, including 80% of the fresh water consumption, (up to 2400 gal. of water/lb. of beef) and 50% of arable land. Conversely, cutting food waste by just 15% would feed 25 million
hungry people and keep over 115 million tons of greenhouse gas out of the atmos-
Fig. 2 – Over 84% of restaurant food waste ends up in landfills,
compared to just over 5% for the manufacturing sector. Retailers
and wholesalers donate more, over 13%.
phere. That too, is what this blog and WasteNOT is about. Our goal is to make this the go-to space for information, tips, and tools you can use in the fight against food waste disease. From our perspective, the choice is clear. Failure is not an option. We can feed hungry and/or food insecure diners or we can feed insatiable, profit-gobbling dumpsters.
Finally, we hope that you will visit this space often. We welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions.
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