Food needs saving. In the United States, we waste somewhere between 30% to 50% of the food we grow. At the same time, 1 out of every 8 people are hungry. You may have heard these numbers previously but wonder what you can do to help. There are a number ways to pitch in to help out. They range from easy to difficult and require everything from a little thought to volunteering your free time and donating some cash. We’ll start out with the easy stuff you can do today.
Wasted food accounts for about half the food created in the United States. About 25% of fresh water used to irrigate crops is wasted. Tons of wasted oil for energy and a huge amount of food going to landfills. All while people go hungry.
1. Stop throwing out food.
Do a little research on how food goes bad in your fridge. We end up throwing out a ton of completely edible food while someone down the street is wondering where the next meal is coming from. You shouldn’t feel the need to bundle up your almost bad food and hustle it down the street to someone in need. “Here, have the food I don’t think I’d eat.” Probably not the best way to bring a community together.
Instead, try keeping an eye on the foods you do have and use your senses (common being one of them) to sort out which foods really are bad and which aren’t. Use your sense of smell, sight, and taste to determine if something is rotten. Typically, a food is going to have something actually growing on it like a fungus or it’s going to smell or taste potently sour.
But overall, stop paying too close attention to the sell by and use by dates. Those are typically arbitrary dates that may or may not have anything to do with the actual food you find them on. Ignore them, but be smart about how you do it.
2. Stop buying more food than you can eat before it goes bad.
Okay, this should almost be in the first section, but it speaks more to our consumer culture. I shop at Sam’s Club and Costco. Most of us buy things in bulk. It’s more cost effective and it cuts down on environmental waste. But it also means you have more food to go through.
For instance, I heard this coming out of my own mouth standing in front of the power green salad containers at Sam’s Club. “We could eat half this, throw the rest away and it’s still cheaper than the grocery store.” I hate that I thought it but it’s true. You can toss food and still save money.
- Freeze some of it. Buy bulk meat, divvy it up at home and freeze it in usable portion sizes.
- Don’t buy things that go bad quickly like produce or share with roommates and neighbors. Splitting grocery bills is a great way to save money.
- Or, buy half and donate the rest to a shelter or food pantry. Or just make a meal for the next homeless person you see.
3. Buy fresh, ugly foods.
Or even demand that your grocery store stock them (or stop shopping there). Ugly food is just as nutritious and tasty as a perfectly round apple. Seriously, this is a thing. About 30% of all food produced in the United States is thrown out before it even sees a grocery store. This is because we want perfect looking foods on our shelves.
Each time you purchase a food, you vote for that food. So buy ugly. Vote for ugly.
But there’s more you can do that might take you out of your comfort zone and into a community of people who are helping those who need help. These organizations, food rescues, are generally small and volunteer driven. Your donation of money or time (or preferably both), will go a long way to alleviating waste, helping those who in needs, and promoting sustainable farming and distribution processes. Help you, help them, help the world.
4. Donate some cash to a food rescue (how to find a food rescue)
Just shovel cash until your conscience feels better. It’s not an ideal solution, but most food rescues and small food pantry nonprofits always need operating capital. They get most of their administrative costs paid for through private donation. That’s you. You’re a private donor. Be one.
5. Volunteer at a food rescue
But don’t stop at private donation. Get out and help. Donate a couple hours a night, once a week, to helping out a nonprofit. You can just be a warm body for them to use or you can donate specific skills you might have to the cause. You could even start fundraising for them!
Volunteering is also a great way to network and increase your skillset. Food rescues tend to rescue food at the source and redirect the food to those in need. Unfortunately, most fresh produce gets tossed because larger food pantry style distribution nonprofits are unable to collect, house, and redistribute fresh foods – the foods many American’s need most.
Need to find a food rescue?
Okay, so no food rescue in your area. So you can think about donating to a food rescue in another area – they typically all can use it and promote food justice – or start your own.
Starting your own food rescue really isn’t too terribly tough, but it can doing anything from scratch can be a serious challenge. The Food Rescue Alliance has put together a packet to help people start a food rescue of their own.
The Package Deal is a pdf that lays out the path to creating your own food rescue based on the path that Boulder Food Rescue took. And, you’ll have the support of Boulder Food Rescue and the Food Rescue Alliance.