One-third of food produced is never eaten. A family of four loses $1,500 a year in wasted food.
Stats like that were shared about food waste with a group of 15 community members who gathered to watch the documentary "Wasted! The Story of Food Waste" Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the New York Mills Public Library.
Throughout the documentary, the Environmental Protection Agency pyramid for reducing food waste and statistics about food waste in the United States and globally were shared. The film also took you on an atypical food tour in countries such as Japan and South Korea where food waste programs have been started in recent years, highlighting both the solutions and problems, which is why Minnesota GreenCorps member Brittney Kakac chose this film.
The reducing food waste pyramid divided the film into five focuses, each a place where food can go to, including people, livestock, energy, compost piles and landfills. The goal is to not have food travel to landfills, where methane is produced due to the lack of oxygen, according to founder of Feeding the 5000 Tristram Stuart. And just how much food waste goes to landfills was new to New York Mills resident Pat Fredley.
“I was aware of some of this you know but some of the data as far as … 90% of our food waste winds up in the landfill and then it doesn’t deteriorate, I mean that’s kind of scary when you think about the size of some of the landfills now and then the waste that’s being produced,” Fredley said.
Another landfill fact surprised community members—who briefly discussed what they learned following the documentary—a head of lettuce takes 25 years to decompose. Kakac also learned this when she first watched the documentary.
“In the film it says that a head of lettuce takes 25 years to decompose in a landfill which I heard a lot of folks go, ‘Ooh,’ which, yeah, it’s amazing, you never really think about what happens to your garbage when you put it in the trash bin. Where does it go? It goes away, but there is no away especially in a landfill, it stays there forever, I mean obviously organic material decomposes but that has consequences too if it ends up in a landfill,” Kakac said.
Within the feeding people portion of the film, farmers and restaurant chefs talked about the value that people should find in food, including using all of an animal or plant product as a way of respect for the product and the landscape. One farmer taught a restaurant owner about different parts of vegetables that can be used and are quite tasty, such as the leaves of a cauliflower. For Fredley, food waste in restaurants also happens because of portion sizes.
“The other thing I think is a lot of our fast food places and our restaurants, the serving sizes are way too large, there’s a lot of food waste just because people can’t eat that much,” Fredley said.
The restaurant scene also includes people’s desire for food to look tasty and be exciting. As founder of Mission Chinese Food Danny Bowien shared in the film the question is, “How can I make people want to eat this?” The changes could simply include unusual parts of an animal or creating different flavors in pork by feeding pigs specific leftover foods. Another creative idea was using leftover bread to make beer, creating collaboration between food companies, as Stuart produces.
Within factors contributing to food waste, the film considers grocery stores an “apex of power,” showing people an “infinite abundance” of options that people do not need to buy. The stores also throw away leftover food and ship it to landfills.
As a way to combat this and food deserts, stores such as the Daily Table in Dorchester, Mass., offer fresh food to people at a price comparable to fast food in an area where fast food restaurants are highly present and no grocery stores are available. Community members wanted to know more about the legal issues that stand in the way for stores, restaurants and schools to have programs like these.
One community member shared about his experience as a garbage collector and seeing food waste from businesses and homes. As a gardener, Fredley wants to do her part to monitor food waste.
“I grow for the Farmers Market locally so it’s looking at some of the food waste as far as what I grow and how I grow it. I compost a lot of our waste food or waste scraps, and stuff like that, because I have a large garden but sometimes it’s making sure that the food is used,” Fredley said.
While the first two portions of the food waste pyramid make sure food is used, composting is a way for food to become soil to then grow plants in the future. The documentary shared about one school in particular, Samuel J. Green Charter School, where students place their leftover food in green bins on the cafeteria tables. Students fifth through eighth grade build the compost pile and grow fresh fruits and vegetables in the garden. The compost program began after Hurricane Katrina and shows students how they can change their individual lives, families, communities, city, the nation and then the world.
“I’m like ‘at least I have a compost pile’ but that’s still not you know when you’re throwing away food even when it’s in your compost pile you’re throwing away so many resources, so much land use, so much water, so much labor, all the things that it takes to get the food to your kitchen, you’re throwing it away,” Kakac said.
The hope is to mostly compost organic materials and reduce other food waste. For businesses, from food manufacturing to food service, the money invested on food waste reduction is returned with as much as $14 in returns for every $1 invested, according to a Champions 12.3 study noted in the film. The documentary also talks about farmers being able to receive more money for the crops they are already producing. And the crops should not be “the wrong product,” ones that the U.S. values and transforms into unhealthy food products.
“I wish that our food system in this country would support those who didn’t want to grow corn and soybeans, I mean there’s plenty of small farms around here that grow sustainable animals, sustainable vegetables and they don’t get subsidies like the big ag folks do, and not that they’re getting rich or anything,” Kakac said.
With a food system requiring change in the U.S. and globally, Kakac saw community members interest piqued by the end of the film, “they were like, ‘Oh my god, this is serious, we got to do something.’"
As a way to change food waste in the area, community members, whether a resident of Otter Tail County or not, can join the EPA Food: Too Good to Waste challenge in February. The challenge includes information and advice on how to reduce food waste, shop for food better and improved ways of storing food, according to Kakac. Each participant is required to attend the kick-off and celebration, where they will receive free materials including a bucket, magnets and a yard sign.
“You really just got to see it to believe it. Even for me, the amount of food that I was wasting when I first tried this out, I was like, ‘No way, this sucks!’,” Kakac said.
Food waste challenge meetings
New York Mills Public Library: Kickoff on Feb. 1 at 10:30 a.m.; celebration on March 7 at 10:30 a.m.
Perham Public Library: Kickoff on Feb. 1 at 1:30 p.m.; celebration on March 7 at 1:30 p.m.
Fergus Falls Public Library: Kickoff on Feb. 3 at 5:30 p.m.; celebration on March 9 at 5:30 p.m.
Pelican Rapids Public Library: Kickoff on Feb. 6 at 5 p.m.; celebration on March 12 at 5 p.m.