Here’s a statistic that’s hard to swallow: an estimated 40% of food produced in the United States – that’s about $165 billion dollars worth – winds up in a landfill, never making it to a store, onto a table, or into a hungry belly! A large percentage of wasted food is healthy and perfectly fine to eat and, according to some estimates, reducing waste by just 15% would provide enough food to feed 25 million hungry Americans. The Quad Cities Food Recovery Program is tackling the problem of food waste and hunger right here in our community where 1 in 3 children, 1 in 5 adults, and 1 in 6 seniors have difficulty each month securing enough to eat.
According to Dana Gunders, co-author of Wasted: How America is Losing 40% of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill, “Food waste occurs at all levels of the supply chain. We leave entire fields un-harvested, reject produce solely for cosmetic reasons, throw out anything close to its “use by” date, inundate restaurant patrons with massive portions and let absurd amounts of food rot in the back of our fridges”. Waste occurs along all points of our food growing, processing, selling and eating systems, which means – here is the good news – there are many opportunities to reduce waste and fix the problem!
Shea Richland, Food Recovery Coordinator for the Quad Cities, reports that in their first year, the program rescued over 50,000 pounds of food throughout Yavapai County. “This was not only a great success, but a real welcome from our community for our project!” How did Shea and her group of dedicated volunteers divert all of that food from landfills to lunches? Here’s how food recovery works: potential sources of waste are identified, including farms, grocery stores, food service – even backyard gardens – and agreements made to pick up produce and other perishable foods by organizations that serve those in need. Some of the local organizations that have received weekly food donations include several low-income apartment complexes, the Boys and Girls Club, La Tierra Elementary School, shelters and local food banks. According to Richland, the Food Recovery Project recently added Einstein’s Bagels, Whipstone Farm, and Market on the Move to a growing list of donors that already includes YRMC’s Nutrition Services, Embry Riddle, Little Caesar’s Pizza and Prescott Pines Christian Camp.
Shea joined us in the studio at Your Healthy Kitchen recently to talk about food recovery and to prepare a delicious Eggplant and Tomato Ratatouille – a savory summer vegetable stew – from produce typically recovered and delivered to hungry neighbors.
Restaurants and other food service organizations like YRMC’s Nutrition Services freeze extra meals that have not been served – and volunteers deliver those meals safely to people in need. Whipstone Farm in Paulden regularly donates fresh, unsold produce. Gleaning projects – where homeowners open up their gardens for volunteers to pick bumper crops of fruit – have yielded bushels of apples and other fruit that might otherwise go to waste. The Food Recovery Program will also be working to help local food banks find eaters for the big deliveries of fresh produce they often receive from the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance.
People who are food insecure most often represent the working poor. These are individuals and families who are working but don’t make enough money to adequately feed themselves and their families after paying for the other necessary costs of living. Many receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, but they are now at an increased risk of hunger because of planned cuts to SNAP. According to a Cornucopia Community Advocates report, approximately 5,000 people living in the Quad Cities are at risk of being cut from the SNAP program, beginning in October 2018.
There are many ways to join the Quad Cities Food Recovery efforts. Individual volunteers are needed to help coordinate gleaning and recovery efforts or to pick up and deliver food. Gardeners can plant extra and donate some of the produce they have grown. Restaurants might donate damaged or less-than-fresh produce and prepared foods that might otherwise be discarded. Grocery stores can contribute produce that won’t sell due to cosmetic flaws or foods that have been pulled from the shelves according to ‘use by’ or ‘sell by’ dates. These dates are manufacturer suggestions for peak flavor and do not indicate food safety. Most foods are safe and good to eat after ‘use’ and ‘sell by’ dates have passed (with the exception of infant formulas).
For more information on food waste and recovery Shea recommends the documentary, Just Eat It, an entertaining but serious experiment by a Vancouver, BC couple stepping up and out to understand the scope of food waste in their community. To volunteer, donate, or otherwise become involved with the Quad Cities Food Recovery Program, call 928-592-7929 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.