We believe there’s dignity in leftovers. Our Chewse to Connect series features stories from the field, highlighting the impact your food donations have on the local community. September is Hunger Action Month! Here are our tips and tricks to fight hunger and food waste in your community.
Go HAM! No, it’s not what you think it means. HAM stands for Hunger Action Month! Every September, a nationwide push in the United States calls to reduce food waste and fight hunger. It’s no coincidence that the month-long campaign falls at the same time as kiddos head back to school. As September rolls around, parents are expected to spend $700 on school supplies – not counting food costs. Many parents are strapped for cash and sacrifices are often made. Food insecurity affects children the most out of any other age group.
Children (heck, all of us!) need healthy, balanced meals for their physical development and to keep up with new, harder curriculum. Additionally, a child who experiences food insecurity is more likely to have social and behavioral problems, or may even skip a grade.
But this isn’t just a September problem – hunger is not confined to one month. It’s a daily struggle for almost 40 million Americans, young and old. It’s a problem that exists in almost every community across the country.
Why we’ve got to fight hunger
The US Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as the “household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” Food insecurity isn’t that rent week struggle of ramen noodles every night or intermittent fasting. It’s a long-term condition in which a person or family might not know where their next meal might come from.
Hunger specifically, is the physical pain and discomfort as a result of not being able to afford your next meal. It’s the same pain as if you skip a meal or just before a late dinner – you’ve probably felt it before! It’s hard to focus, or as one of our food donation recipient organizations describes it, “it’s difficult to function at those times” (more on this in a bit). Hunger pains due to food insecurity can become normal, or even somewhat bearable, simply because that person is used to the feeling. It’s not normal, though.
There are different levels of food insecurity, but many, many people feel hunger no matter what level of food insecurity. Make sense? To visualize what we mean, check out the food security infographic below. The bottom two categories of low and very low food security are what we describe as food insecurity. This is where eating patterns are disrupted due to external factors like finances or transportation issues that prevent reliable access to food.
According to the USDA, over 95% of people who fall into the very low food security category worried about running out of food, couldn’t eat a balanced diet, or resorted to skipping meals altogether. In a country where 30 – 40% of food is wasted on the farm, at the restaurant, or in our own homes and offices, hunger shouldn’t be this big of a problem. Fighting hunger shouldn’t be this hard.
Why does hunger exist in the first place?
Hunger is a problem not because of a food shortage. In fact, because of industrial agriculture and mass food production, we can feed over 10 billion people. For comparison, there are currently 7.5 billion people on the planet. In reality, hunger is a logistics problem.
In the United States, where almost half of our food is wasted, there are a number of reasons why food is found in the dump rather than in someone’s belly. This handy dandy visual describes how food gets from the farm to your plate. Food waste happens all along the way. Here’s how:
From farm to table: a tale of food waste
Food, obviously, starts at the farm. It’s a crap shoot every season for farmers to know how much to plant or how much they’ll get for the crop – much less if the crop will yield enough to sell. Farmers may face drastic weather conditions, pests, labor shortages, or not enough storage. Food prices, even, might be too low to make it worth it for a farmer to pay delivery costs to transport to grocery stores or distribution centers. Farmers have no choice then, but to toss just-ripe or far-gone oranges, greens, and other produce.
For food items that make it past the farm, if an apple or strawberry even has one blemish, food distribution centers might throw it out. That’s why companies like Imperfect Produce and Spare Fruits have gained in popularity! These companies pluck up perfectly delicious, albeit aesthetically less-than-perfect produce, to reduce the amount wasted in this stage.
Restaurants, grocery stores, and our own homes make up 90% of food waste sources. The restaurant industry in the US throws out about 11 million tons of food each year. That’s a lot of bacon! Restaurant margins are tight and it’s difficult to forecast exactly how much food to buy and prepare. Unfortunately, a lot of excellent produce gets wasted.
At the grocery store and in our own homes, expiration dates mislead consumers to toss out perfectly edible food. “Best by” and “sell by” dates are actually generated by food distribution companies and grocery stores to indicate the food’s freshness. These dates are suggestions of quality and freshness – not of safety. For example, a carton of milk doesn’t immediately go from fresh to sour on the sell by date. An avocado is probably the only food that does…Nearly 85% of consumers throw out food because of these labels.
So, with communities across the country who aren’t sure of how they’ll afford their next meal, all this food waste is silly! How can we be more thoughtful of where are food is coming from, and where it goes? How can we divert perfectly good food back to consumers – and especially to people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from?
We scoured the web for all the best tips and tricks to fight hunger and tackle the food waste cycle, plus added a few tips of our own. Introducing even one of these steps can make a world of difference to reducing food waste and making sure everyone in our community has enough to eat.
1) Buy thoughtfully
With the majority of food waste coming from our own homes, there’s lots we can do about reducing the food that ends up in the garbage. It’s easy to forget about the head of cauliflower bought in a moment of good intention. Or the bulk pack of chicken from Costco you aimed to pack away in the freezer to use on a rainy day. All great ideas! But if these unsuspecting foods end up in the garbage anyway, was it truly well-intentioned?
Why not try buying less and making more frequent trips to the grocery store or farmer’s market, armed with a pre-written grocery list? We don’t know about you, but half the fun of a grocery store run is gawking at the colorful fruits, brand new chip products, and all. the. frozen. pizza. You can even make it a friend date (or even a romantic one, ~ooh la la~)! The whole point of more frequent trips to the grocery store is to have less food at home. Less food at home means less opportunity for things to go bad and inevitably get fed to the garbage can.
For food that does make its way to your home, make sure to write the date of when you bought it. This way, you’ll know exactly how long those berries or herbs have been waiting for you to gobble them up. If you’re really ambitious, keep a running list of all the food items in your fridge and freezer. Hang up the list up next to your kiddo’s drawings or photo of Spot. Cross off the food item every time you finish it up. This way, you’ll easily know what you have, what you’re out of, and what to pick up on your next grocery store outing.
2) Eat thoughtfully
Food distribution companies think we consumers have a weird obsession with perfectly shiny, colorful produce. But if the success of companies like Imperfect Produce, Misfits Market, and Hungry Harvest is any indication, they couldn’t be more wrong! Companies like Imperfect and Misfits take the fruits and vegetables with blemishes or deformities and resell them to consumers. This produce is perfectly imperfect in quality and freshness – they need love too!
Inevitably, there will be some produce that didn’t quite make it in last night’s dinner or your salad for lunch. That’s okay! It probably isn’t expired quite yet, so help out future-you by sticking the vegetables in a resealable bag in the freezer for a broth or stock. Once it’s full, add all the veggies to a pot with some chicken or beef bones (or skip the meat altogether!) and voila! A homemade stock better than the boxed stuff you get in the grocery store aisle. Too many fruits that are a little mushy? Chop ‘em up and fill them into a pie crust to make a quick and satisfying galette, or dump ‘em into a blender for your morning smoothie. The possibilities are endless!
And if eating out is more your thing, make sure to box up your leftovers! You spent good money on that prime rib and it’ll taste (even more) amazing for tomorrow’s lunch. If you’re not one for leftovers, why not share a dish or two with your dining partners? You’ll be able to try more of the menu and make sure you’re not wasting perfectly delicious food (and money).
3) Waste thoughtfully
Even if you’ve taken every measure to prevent food waste, there will always be some scraps here and there. Proper waste management is just as important as reducing your food waste. But instead of going completely zero-waste (unless you’re into that – we applaud you!), take some time to think about where your waste goes.
About 75% of the waste generated can be recycled, but only about 30% of it actually does. The 21.5 million tons of food we waste each year could be composted to reduce waste and rejuvenate farm soil to continue farming produce. Composting 20 million tons of food reduces the same amount of greenhouse gases as taking 2 million cars off the road.
But when your faced with three bins – compost, recycling, and trash – and a non-exhaustive visual diagram of what goes in what bin, panic sets in. The planet is at stake! But don’t worry, all it takes is a little extra attention and a complete guide like this one (or for the visually inclined: this one!). So next time you’re ready to throw your banana peel away, you can take comfort knowing that you’re doing your part for the planet.
4) Restaurant owners, you can fight hunger too!
Like we mentioned, restaurants contribute to one-third of the food waste in the United States. It’s estimated that the food wasted at consumer-facing businesses (not including retailers like grocery stores) equated to $36.5 billion. With food taking up almost one-third of restaurant costs, you don’t want that ending up in the garbage.
Food waste at your restaurant comes in two forms: pre-consumer food waste and post-consumer food waste. Pre-consumer food waste includes anything from food past its expiration date to food scraps that don’t make it into the final dish. Post-consumer food waste, obviously then, is any food thrown away after a dish is plated and in front of the customer. This might be a wrong order made, or leftover food due to large portions.
Pre-consumer waste is the most controllable cost-reduction strategy to tackle, as there are a number of processes you can put in place to reduce food waste. There are a bunch of tips we can share that would take up an entire blog post on its own, so we’ll share just a few.
Most importantly: make sure to label food correctly, with dates, and have dedicated personnel to keep tight inventory of stock. If you’re seeing a certain item pile up and it’s well within a food safe timeline, turn it into family meal. Or, make it a chef’s special that evening. For a long-term fix: stop buying so much of that item! Stocking up might feel like buying yourself time and easing stress. In reality, it might just end up in the trash.
If you do find yourself with leftovers, partner with food rescue companies like Copia. They’ll take perfectly good produce, unsold bread, and other goods to fight hunger in your community.
Dedicating time to a local shelter or soup kitchen is a great way to fight hunger in your own backyard. And we’re not talking about volunteering just around the holidays. These organizations serve folks in need year round. All it takes is just a couple hours of your time to help organizations make meals special for the people they serve.
There are lots of resources online to find a community organization near you. Take a look at Homeless Shelter Directory’s database to find your nearest soup kitchen, shelter, or food bank. Or, volunteer at one of the organizations we help feed through Chewse to Give! Beyond meal service, you can use your skills to help folks fill out applications, tutoring, working events, or simply sharing a laugh.
Things to keep in mind before you go:
- Go with genuine intention and purpose. You’re there to help in anyway the organization needs, so make sure to listen to the folks in charge!
- Be kind and respectful to the folks receiving meals. You never know someone’s life story or the difficulties they might be going through. Be compassionate and serve without expectations.
- Make sure you’re following all food safe handling instructions. That includes proper attire and sanitation guidelines.
- Grab a buddy and go together! If it’s your first time, you might have a few concerns – and that’s okay! Going with a friend or even a colleague will help ease worries so you can bring your whole, compassionate self to the table.
Donate to fight hunger
Maybe you’ve got too much on your plate right now to take the time to volunteer in person. And hey, some organizations might be at capacity to take volunteers, anyway! There are a couple ways you can donate instead.
Next time you clean out your pantry, take all the canned goods (that are well before expired) to your nearest shelter or soup kitchen. Take a look at Feeding America’s database of food banks in your area to drop-off non-perishable goods. Or instead, donate a few dollars! Money goes a long way in an organization who needs those generous donations to keep doors open.
We can fight hunger and eliminate food waste, together
This month, Chewse is going HAM (get it?!) to fight hunger and eliminate food waste. All month long, we’re encouraging clients to donate their perfectly good food through our Chewse to Give program. We work with Copia, the experts in food delivery, to donate any surplus food you might have from your meal service to a local non-profit. After all, hunger is the world’s dumbest problem – we can solve hunger together! If you haven’t signed up with us yet, or want to make an even bigger impact, these are just a few ways you can fight hunger and eliminate food waste in your community. Now, let’s get to it!