By: Katherine Lewis
The ERS estimated that $161.6 billion of food was lost in 2010 at the retail and consumer level in the United States. Within this figure, loss of meat, poultry, and fish comprised $48 billion, while vegetables comprised $30 billion and dairy products made up the remaining $27 billion. Meat, fish, and poultry contributed 30% of the US’s total food waste and vegetables and dairy products contributed 19% and 17% respectively.
Besides being an unnecessary drain on the nation’s economy and negatively contributing to climate change, the massive amount of food that is wasted in the US represents an opportunity to address another issue: food insecurity. In 2012, 49 million people lived in food-insecure households in the US. Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as “when the food intake of one or more household members is reduced and eating patterns are disrupted at times during the year because the household lacks money and other resources for food”. The fact that 14.5% of US households are food-insecure stands in direct contrast with the fact that 387 billion calories of food are wasted in the US every day. These two issues clearly oppose each other: if 49 million Americans are hungry, how can we continue to waste 133 billion pounds of food every year?
In 2015, the USDA and EPA announced a goal of reducing food waste to landfills and combustion with energy recovery by 50% by the year 2030. This goal is in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In order to educate individuals—as well as leaders in private, government, nonprofit, academia, and faith sectors—on various food recovery strategies, the EPA released the Food Recovery Hierarchy in 2015. This chart ranks methods of food disposal from most preferred (source reduction and feeding the hungry) to least preferred (landfill/incarceration).
There are also local efforts working to address this issue. For example, one club at Emory is actively working to make a difference in their community and address the second tier of the Food Recovery Hierarchy through food redistribution. Emory Food Chain (EFC) is a student-run organization working to address both food waste and food insecurity through redistribution. During the Fall 2018 semester, the students recovered and donated 2,219 pounds of food, which is the equivalent of 1,850 meals. The club works closely with Emory Dining and the Emory Office of Sustainability Initiatives, as well as their local partners which include Atlanta Mission, Atlanta Hospitality House, Toco Hills Alliance, Grace Methodist Church, Mercy Community Church, and Emory Bread Coffeehouse. EFC also partners with Second Helpings Atlanta to recover food from two Whole Foods locations on a weekly basis.
Although Emory Dining works to reduce food waste through source reduction, EFC plays an important role in reducing food waste at Emory because it is the university’s only food recovery program. According to EFC’s president, Madison Mainman, this club is, “…unique in that everyone can connect to [it] in some way. Everyone has some sort of primary experience with food as we all have to eat.” Many students, however, have even deeper connections with food. As Madison explains, “At Emory…there is a perception that most students are well off and don't wonder where their next meal is coming from, but that's just not the case […] Not many of us think about choosing between paying for textbooks or going grocery shopping that week, but it is a reality that some Emory students face.” In order to address this issue, Bread Coffee House, one of EFC’s local partners, has started a food pantry for students. Additionally, Emory’s Office of Student Success Programs and Services works to redistribute meal swipes to students who are food insecure. The Center for the Study of Human Health is partnering with Bread Coffeehouse and the Office of Student Success Programs and Services for the #EmoryBandTogether (EBT) campaign to raise awareness of food insecurity, which starts next week.
This semester, EFC has organized 15 weekly shifts so that student volunteers can register for the ones that best fit their schedule. Volunteers sign up for shifts to pick up extra food from Emory’s dining halls and local grocery stores and deliver it to the club’s community partners. Students can also register for service shifts to volunteer with these organizations, or gardening shifts to help maintain the Cox Hall Garden. Madison believes that “our volunteers are our biggest strength; without them we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.” If you would like to get involved with EFC this semester, use this link before February 13th to register for club membership and sign up for one or more shifts.