Shore makes haste with food waste (Editorial)

(Aug. 9, 2016) So, you get to the supermarket. You grab a cart and enter the store. As you make your way down the fully stocked fresh vegetable display aisle and then wind your way through the counter-top bins of fruit, you become aware, quite suddenly, of the magnitude, the enormity of the collection of food around you.
You notice an employee trying to find a place on an already fully stocked lettuce bin for a new box of romaine which apparently had just arrived as part of a new shipment.
You suspect, instinctively, that a lot — how much you’re not sure — of that huge collection of food will not be sold before it has to be removed from the shelves.
And you wonder what happens to it.
You recall television news reports with photos of markets in far-away countries with absolutely barren shelves and you thought how blessed we are in our homeland.
Those images return as you stand there, with your cart, deciding which vegetable you will have for dinner.
An organization known as Foodtank, says that at least 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year — in fields, during transport, in storage, at restaurants and in markets in industrialized and developed countries alike.
In rich countries alone, Foodtank reports, some 222 million tons of food are wasted, which is almost as much as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.
And according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, wasted food costs some $680 billion in industrialized countries and $310 billion in developing countries.
While food waste presents obvious moral and economic dilemmas, Foodtank claims it also creates environmental problems.
As food decomposes in landfills, Foodtank says, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that “is 27 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”
Thankfully, businesses, policymakers, farmers, researchers, and the funding and donor communities are taking action to tackle food loss and food waste.
ReFED, for example, is a collaboration of businesses, nonprofits, foundations and government leaders that came together to analyze the problem of food waste and develop practical solutions.
Their report highlights 27 of the most cost-effective ways to reduce food waste, based on societal economic value, business profit potential and other non-financial impacts.
Those proposals include, for example, centralized composting, treating waste so that it can be fed to animals, shipping produce directly from the farm field to the market, improved inventory management in supermarkets, the sale of “imperfect produce” at discounted prices and widespread use of smaller plates.
National and international agencies have also made commitments to end food waste.
One of the recently released Sustainable Development Goals focuses on responsible consumption and production of food.
It challenges all of us to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030.
In addition, the USDA and EPA have set the first-ever national food waste reduction goal, which aims to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030.
The expanded efforts to alleviate waste at the state or regional level is evident at Maryland’s Food Bank and the persistence of Amy Cawley, who directs the food bank’s operations on the Eastern Shore.
Over the past five years, Cawley reports she has supervised the gleaning of farm fields across the Eastern Shore of 4.5 million pounds of produce, “most of which would have been waste with the exception of what we purchased from farmers on the Shore.”
A total of 52 farmers on the Eastern Shore either donate to or contract with the Maryland Food Bank for disposal of produce.
Jennifer Small, who directs food bank operations on the Eastern Shore, said about 1 million pounds of produce have come off Eastern Shore farm fields annually in recent years. Of that amount, about 600,000 pounds have been gleaned in each of the past two years.
Had it not been, that’s 1.2 million pounds of produce that would have been wasted.
Small, who came to the Maryland Food Bank in 2009 after serving 15 years in the grocery business, said that grocery chains traditionally partner with other organizations, like Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, to minimize food loss.
It is well to elevate an awareness of food waste in this country if indeed, the population predictions for the middle of this century are anywhere near correct.
As it is, there is little doubt that our farmers, supported by increasingly sophisticated technology and seed science, cannot keep pace with need and demand.
It will be recognizing where that need and demand exist and then getting the food there.