We believe in a big-tent philosophy when it comes to dealing with food waste. There’s room for everybody who has a good idea. We are focused on prevention (aka source reduction). That is, preventing food waste from happening to begin with so kitchens avoid the financial cost of buying food they’ll just throw away, and in turn avoid contributing to the environmental impact of wasted food (CO2 emissions, wasted water, poor land use, etc).
But there are great ideas around food waste recovery, too. That is, dealing with food waste after it has occurred (donating food, composting, etc). And so we were excited to bring a prevention voice to Feeding America’s recent Food Rescue Summit 2018 in Washington, DC.
We participated in the panel on “Making the Most of Technology Innovations,” where we made the point, naturally, that food waste tracking is the key to food waste prevention, but that a holistic approach to dealing with our food waste crisis, especially in the short term, should include both prevention and recovery.
As it happened, the point was made for me in a session entitled “The Big Opportunity: Additional Access to Agricultural Products.” In this session, a representative from the dairy sector discussed excess supply that is often dumped. A representative from the produce sector discussed donations of excess potato supplies. And a representative from the poultry sector gave a unique example of a three-day disruption to production operations from a severe storm which led to a large volume of chickens that were oversized for normal packaging.
While creative recovery models, agile logistics, and strong relationships can capture this food for redistribution – the large elephant in the room concerned overproduction, and the cycle of producing food that just ends up going to landfill. One participant was visibly moved by the conversation, particularly about the dumping of milk supplies, and a short time later questioned why we all weren’t talking about prevention.
It was a passionate statement in a conference setting focused on food recovery, and it raised an important point: prevention and recovery efforts can and should go hand-in-hand as part of holistic food waste reduction strategies.
Preventing that overproduction, whether on the farm or at the manufacturing level, is the key to controlling food waste. But in the immediate term, we can’t ignore the millions of tons of excess food produced in this country annually, especially when we have more than 40 million citizens experiencing food insecurity. Aside from its environmental and financial costs, wasted food is a missed opportunity to feed people, improve nutrition, and build community. Capturing and redistributing excess food efficiently allows us to feed people in need in the short term. It is a critically important bridge while we address the longer term, systemic issues of overproduction, that can only be controlled through prevention.