Identifying Gaps, Leveraging Data

By Steven Finn, Vice President of Food Waste Prevention.  //  November 30, 2017

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We were pleased to contribute to November’s conference on food waste and food security in Arlington, Virginia, led by FFAR, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.  The session, entitled Food Waste to Food Security and Beyond: Identifying Research Gaps Across the Food System, pulled together a broad swath of thought leaders from government, NGOs, academia and business to focus on challenges, innovations, and advances in reducing food waste.  FFAR has a specific interest in exploring high impact research opportunities related to inefficiencies in food production, food waste prevention and reduction methods, food waste measurement and reporting methodologies, and alternative uses for food waste (better stated, excess food resources with value).  FFAR’s goal – achieving actionable outcomes through its research – is attractive.

Over the course of two days we focused on prioritizing cross-sector challenges to reducing the amount of wasted food across the supply chain, identifying innovative research opportunities to address those challenges, and identifying barriers (incentives) that discourage (promote) cross-sector collaboration. Breakout sessions provided collaborative opportunities to discuss research gaps and white spaces in detail, and we closed with a “moonshot approach” to developing alternative uses for food waste with respect to fruits and vegetables, technologies and processes for whole product utilization, renewable resources, and new markets for product and co-product utilization.

A number of critical themes related to food waste reduction were covered throughout the event, including awareness-raising, education, collaboration, consumer behavior, environmental externalities, supply chain inefficiencies, circular thinking, and regulation, to name a few.  We were pleased to see that one resounding theme, however, was the importance of prioritizing food waste prevention efforts.  And closely linked was recognition of the importance of good data to support measurement and prevention efforts. 

At LeanPath, we couldn’t agree more.  And while we wholly support efficient food recovery efforts, we believe that it is an important time to shift the conversation about food waste up the hierarchy to prioritize prevention efforts.

Our focus has always been on the top tier of the Food Waste Reduction hierarchy.  By enabling organizations to adjust their operations to prevent the amount of food going to waste in the first place (i.e. source reduction), we help save all of the associated resources that go into producing that food.  This not only reduces the negative environmental impact of wasted food, it frees resources to be used for other purposes to benefit society.

As Kai Robertson of the World Resources Institute noted, we need a culture shift to prevention, because food doesn’t belong in a landfill.  And we need to set food waste reduction targets, measure against them, and act – because what matters at the end of the day is action.  Kai further noted that we need good data on food waste -- because data drives decisions -- and we need baselines to measure progress along the way.  Again, we agree, and we provide our customer partners with baselines and real-time transactional data to measure and manage for food waste prevention.

Pete Pearson of the World Wildlife Fund noted that his organization has a “prevention first” mindset, while Elise Golan of USDA noted that we need to change our narrative, not only speaking in terms of meals saved and pounds composted, but in terms of the amount of wasted food that we didn’t produce in the first place.  We certainly support this kind of thinking.

Last, we love engaging in moonshot discussions for positive change in all aspects of the food system.  It’s a system in need of a lot of moonshots.  But in the culinary sector, we think the answer for preventing food waste is right in front of us, in the hands of chef champions and front-line kitchen workers: Track and measure your food waste, analyze the results, set goals to drive improvement, and inspire your team through change-focused coaching.  In other words:  Measure – Analyze – Optimize – Empower. 

That’s a recipe for leveraging data and preventing food waste at scale. 

Topics: Food Waste Musings, Food Waste Prevention Newsletter, commercial kitchen