Dear Ventana Chapter members,
Here is Carolyn Hinman's third blog about projects and updates in the Environmental Studies program at CSUMB for our website.
Food Waste in America: Looking for Solutions
By Carolyn Hinman
Last month I delved into the realm of food waste in America. I illuminated the crisis of the disparity between the overwhelming surplus of food finding its way into landfills, and the staggering number of US citizens who go hungry each year. The problem is undeniable, but is there a viable solution on the table?
Despite the obvious peril wrought by the enormity of the current food waste situation, relatively little is being done in America to combat its effects, though recent media attention on the subject seems to have served as a catalyst for action. The United States ranks at the top of the list in terms of magnitude of food waste, but our policy makers are skirting the issue. No serious legislation yet exists to prevent it. Some European lawmakers are addressing the crisis head on, however, and are passing laws to mitigate the devastating impact of food waste on the environment, the economy, and society.
The Independent reports that Italy instituted a policy this month encouraging businesses and consumers alike to curb their waste. The new laws will make it easier for businesses to donate food to charitable organizations, and for restaurant patrons to procure a doggy bag to take home leftovers – a practice not widely embraced by Italians.
Legislation laid down in France mandates that restaurants, grocery stores, and other food suppliers keep waste out of landfills by either donating viable food to charity, composting, or participating in anaerobic digestion methods to generate alternate sources of electricity. Failure to enter into an agreement to donate to a charitable organization results in a fine of upwards of 3,000 euros.
In 2014, France's largest supermarket chain, Intermarche, began purchasing "unsellable" produce from farmers and putting it on sale in their stores at a 30% discount. During the first two days of the sale, 1.2 tons of produce were sold at each participating location, and store traffic increased by 24%. Five of the grocer's biggest competitors launched similar programs in response. American retailers would be wise to follow suit as the additional revenue would benefit farmers, retailers, and the flagging American economy.
Earlier this year European Parliament voted in favor of legislation that will prohibit grocery stores from engaging in unfair trading practices. According to European Parliament News, producers are often forced to sell crops at a loss in response to high pressure negotiations with buyers who intimidate them into eating the cost of grocery store markdowns. These "deals" not only devastate farmers, but contribute to an imbalanced food system and compound food waste. Our cross-Atlantic counterparts have heeded the signs that change is necessary, and are setting a precedent for the rest of the world to follow.
There is one American city that has committed to revolutionize its food waste habits. San Francisco adopted a food service waste ordinance and is pushing for zero waste by 2020. The city has already achieved its previous goal of a 75% waste reduction by 2010, and has set its sights on eliminating waste entirely by the dawn of the next decade. The Golden Gate city also has a mandatory recycling and composting ordinance requiring each resident to sort their trash into recyclables, compostables, and landfill waste. Restaurants and other food retailers must compost their food waste or face fines and citations. We on the central coast can be empowered by the positive change our neighbors to the north are making, and petition our city leaders and lawmakers to pass similar legislation in Monterey County.
Jordan Figueiredo is the champion of a change.org petition urging Wal-Mart to expand its offering of "ugly produce." While the megastore has committed to selling a brand of imperfect apples called "I'm Perfect", according to Market Watch the fruit will only be carried in 300 stores in Florida. Since April of this year, Wal-Mart has also stocked an offering of wonky potatoes called "Spuglies." Both of these products are available at well below average price, and have been hugely popular in the limited time they have been available. Figueriredo's petition calls upon the retail giant to increase its offerings of ugly produce, citing the powerful influence the company has on market and societal trends.
Whole Foods locations in the Bay Area are also reportedly in talks with Imperfect Produce to bring aesthetically-challenged produce to its shelves. Imperfect Produce is a delivery service that rescues funny-looking fruits and vegetables from certain demise and brings them to subscribing patrons. This is the kind of industry our government should subsidize. We need a shift away from corn, soybeans, beef, and dairy, and toward a system that fosters foods and businesses that will bring health and vitality back to the American people.
Large corporations like Wal-Mart and Whole Foods possess the potential for creating a wide-spread impact by supporting the ugly produce movement. If America's supermarkets and restaurants tap into the resources available through utilizing what would otherwise be food waste, farmers and retailers stand to increase their profits, consumers will reap the benefits of reduced prices in the checkout lines, and nutritious food will be more readily available to the millions of Americans who live on a shoestring from paycheck to paycheck.
There is more food available in this country than we could ever hope to consume, yet millions of Americans go hungry or live in food deserts. If we care about the long-term health of our planet, our economy, and our people, we will seize this opportunity to break out of the pattern of conforming to unrealistic standards of perfection when it comes to the food we eat. A misshapen eggplant has the same nutrient value that a "perfect" eggplant has, and may in fact be more nutritious as it has had to overcome more obstacles to grow into a mature fruit. A bee-stung apple looks differently than we expect it to, but tastes just as sweet as its ideally-formed sister – perhaps sweeter with the knowledge that a wholesome and beautiful product of nature has been salvaged and repurposed for consumption. Just as the fashion and beauty industries are in the process of casting off the shackles of our "traditional" standards of beauty for humans, so must the agriculture and food industries shed the false skin of perfection in produce.
A century ago, humans hoed their own rows, sowed their own seeds, reaped their own harvests, and cooked their own meals. Today, we live in a pre-packaged, single-serving, instant gratification food culture, ruled by microwaves and plastic wrap. We don't see tomatoes on the vine, or experience the satisfaction of plucking an aromatic and juicy peach from a tree our grandfather planted before the advent of color TV. Grocery stores offer us endless supplies of pristine products, free of the dirt and dings that we would observe in our own backyard gardens, so we have become accustomed to clean, sterile, and characterless food.
Children cannot identify common fruits and vegetables, and to this day, the most highly-consumed vegetables in America are tomatoes in the form of ketchup and potatoes that have been reincarnated into French fries. We cannot afford for our descendants to believe that chicken legs are grown separately from the chicken and live happily inside a vacuum-sealed package in the freezer section, or that Cheerios are a whole grain. We must reestablish a sense of connection to our food, to take pride in its cultivation, to experience joy in the harvest. Until then, it will continue to be with impunity that we scrape an uneaten serving of broccoli into the trash, or toss the package of cheddar cheese that was "best by" yesterday.
Our society is dangerously close to forgetting its mortality. We take for granted that grocery stores exist on every corner and that their shelves are continuously stocked with preservative-packed, anti-biotic-pumped, sugar-coated, subsidized fare that we slide into our shopping baskets as an afterthought. Let's acknowledge that our arrogant sense of propriety over the earth and its resources is what is bringing us to this precipice of cataclysmic climate change and past the point of no return. The actions of our past are inextricably linked to the realities of today, and the future depends upon what we decide to do with that knowledge right now.
Plant something. Water it. Watch as it bursts from the soil and stretches toward the sun, unfurls its tiny leaves and plunges its roots deep enough to survive. Do you know where your roots are? Are they still intact? There isn't enough Miracle-Gro and Round-Up to propel humanity into the next generation if we do not stop to reexamine ourselves.
Learn how to pickle, learn how to can. Do a Google search on making preserves, or investigate make-shift root cellars. Get your hands in the dirt and marvel at what you have nurtured to maturity. Vote with your dollars and delight in the fruits of Mother Earth's womb. It is a terrible thing not to know what you had until it is gone.
European Parliament News. (2016, June 7). Parliament calls for EU action to help farmers fight unfair trading practices. Retrieved from
French Parliament, National Assembly. (2015, May 15). Amendment No. 922. Retrieved from
Harris, Sofia. (2016, August 4). CBC News. Selling unwanted food at a discount, a growing trend you may want to bite into. Retrieved from
Imperfect Produce. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Inglorious Fruits & Vegetables. (2014). Retrieved from Intermarche:
LaMagna, Maria. (2016, August 10). Market Watch. Why supermarkets want to sell you ugly fruits and vegetables. Retrieved from
Lefebvre, F. (n.d.). Proposed Law Frederic Lefebvre and Jean-Pierre DeCool to Fight Against Food Waste. Retrieved from Frederic Lefebvre:
Neff, R. A., Spiker, M. L., & Truant, P. L. (2015). Wasted food: U.S. consumer's reported awareness, attitudes, and behaviors. Plos ONE, 10(6), pp. 1-16. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0127881
Parry, A., James, K., & LeRoux, S. (2015). Strategies to achieve economic and environmental gains by reducing food waste. Waste and Resources Action Programme.
Williams, Casey (2016, August 4). Europe does something amazing with food that has nothing to do with eating. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
Zero Waste. (n.d.). Retrieved from SF Environment: