“Finish Your Food!”November 6, 2015
We were all told by our mothers: there are starving children in Africa. Finish your food.
Well it looks like mom may have been onto something, but we don’t even need to go as far as Africa to see her point. While 15% (that’s 48.1 million) of Americans are food insecure and struggle to obtain adequate nutrition, it’s a wonder that 40% of our food from the farm to the table is wasted.
How can we have that many hungry people, yet so much food that ends up wasted?
Of course, it would be almost impossible to completely eliminate, but food waste is both a huge social issue and environmental issue. Eighteen percent of the waste in our landfills is food, which then breaks down into methane, a greenhouse gas eighty-four times more potent than carbon dioxide (Environmental Defense Fund). Reducing food waste would open doors for many other solutions to our problems. We know that a better distribution of our food could leave more bellies full and less food turning into greenhouse gasses. Alternatively, we could grow 40% less food and still feed the same amount of people. What difference that could make on our environment! If none of the above steps are taken, we can still use that food for good use through composting. Composting is taking food scraps and mixing them with other organic materials such as leaves, grass clippings, and newspaper (to name a few) and letting the mixture decompose to make a nutrient rich foil that is great for a garden. Considering than much of our food waste is avoidable, a landfill really is a terrible place for food.
There are actions that have been taken to combat food waste, though the United States has been extremely slow to address these issues in comparison to other first world countries. I would further argue that Missouri is further behind than most in the United States. Many consumers know that food waste isn’t a good thing, but most don’t really know why or what exactly they can do about it.
If you’re a student or faculty member at Truman, you may have heard of the Compost Project. If not, here’s a quick run-down: the Compost Project is a grassroots program at Truman that not only addresses food waste by collecting food scraps, but also educates students about composting and food waste and creates healthy soil for anyone to use in the spring. I work for the compost project, and there are three different jobs involved: collecting food waste in the SUB cafeteria, collecting food and rinsing dishes in the Missouri Hall kitchen, and transporting compost from the school to the university farm.
There have been several ways that the compost project has changed my perspective on the issue of food waste. First off, it is incredible to see how much food is wasted by a single individual. In the dining halls, students eat buffet style. This means that they are personally unaffected by the amount of food they waste. There is a seemingly unlimited amount of food, and food waste is quickly sent through the conveyor belt and into the abyss forever. It’s out of sight and out of mind for students in the dining halls. Conversely, in the Student Union Building, students pay for each item. This seems to create an incentive for students to take only what they will eat. Additionally, I would argue that the majority of students do not know what composting is or what healthy soil is or why filling landfills with food is a problem. Sitting there with my ugly green tub does tend to provoke conversation- discussion of these topics is certainly my favorite part of the job. If students are asked to compost in the cafeteria and understand why they are doing so, they may be more likely to do so at home or at least consider taking steps to reduce food waste.
Making a serious effort to reduce food waste could go a long way, and there are many ways that you can contribute to this movement as an individual. Consider eating leftovers instead of eating out or making a new meal. Learn about the difference between “sell-by” and “best by” dates on food packaging, see if your city or neighborhood offers any municipal composting, or start your own small backyard compost pile. If you have food in your pantry that you might not use in time, consider giving it to a friend or family member or donating it.
Are you a Truman student? Compost your extra food in the SUB or at the Communiversity Garden. (By the way, the Communiversity Garden is just behind the REC.) Off campus students can request to have food scraps picked up by Rott-Riders on Saturday mornings. Contact RotRiders@KVPermaculture.org for details. For students looking for a scholarship job or volunteer opportunities, the Compost Project could always use more help (shameless plug)!
Truman State University
Environmental Studies B.S.