The Zero Food Waste Forum: A Place Where Waste Reduction Magic Happened

Hummus.jpg

This is a guest blog by my new fabulous Program Assistant Ariel Cooper, who attended the Zero Food Waste Forum last week. Hopefully you can all make the next one!

Last week people gathered from over 16 states, 6 different countries, and a wide variety of fields to discuss a matter that affects every single person, every single day—food. It was the United States' first ever Zero Food Waste Forum and the excitement of the room was palpable as we assembled to brainstorm, educate, share strategies, and inspire each other with our collective work addressing the food waste epidemic that currently leaves 40% of the food in the United States trashed, and most importantly, uneaten.

The forum was kicked off with the U.S. premiere of the brilliant, hilarious, and eye-opening documentary, "Just Eat It" by filmmakers Jen Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin. Throughout the film, the camera follows their 6-month long journey of surviving only on foods that would have otherwise been thrown away! As we follow their triumphs and tribulations of hunting down wasted food, we are exposed to the sickening amount of perfectly edible and delectable food that is tossed away at the farm, from the retailer, and eventually from our very own kitchens. It gave me chills, made me laugh, and left me more determined than ever to do my part in reducing food waste.

Having worked with Dana Gunders at NRDC, I had been aware of the statistics on how much food Americans waste, but the numbers took on a new dimension as the film portrayed truckloads of "imperfect" peaches discarded at the farm because they didn't fit retailer standards. Imperfect by size, but perfectly delicious peaches never given the chance to see the florescent light of a grocery store or meet the lips of a hungry customer! I felt a knot in my stomach. Next the images of retailer dumpsters overflowing with mislabeled, but perfectly edible hummus, with three weeks left until the expiration date (and even if it were after the date, it would still be fine—see Dana's post on this here).

Hummus! It could have been smeared on a bagel, or crunched on with carrots! Instead it was being thrown away because it didn't fit a rigid cosmetic standard; it didn't have the correct label. Yet even more horrifying is the reality that 17.6 million households in the U.S. are food insecure while dumpsters like the ones Jen and Grant ruffled through are full of tasty delicacies left to rot.[i] This needs to stop.

Luckily there are pioneers who are championing for food recovery solutions and reducing food waste across the supply chain. "Just Eat It" highlighted our very own Dana Gunders, UK food waste activist and author Tristram Stuart, and Jonathan Bloom, author of the notable book, American Wasteland. And beyond the scope of the film, we had an entire conference hall full of people devoted to saving food, energy, and the environment by creating innovative yet simple solutions to preventing wasted food. The work is daunting, but by the end of the day I had no doubt in my mind that we would make a difference—a huge difference.

Folks shared reduction strategies and highlighted programs that catch the excess, such as gleaning, the process of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after the harvest, or new standards for commercial produce that would ban discrimination based on fruits and veggies' color or size. Because come on, who doesn't love some food diversity? The San Francisco Bay Area represented its hard work for the cause with Food Runners' SF representative Mary Risley who urged us to be more diligent and reliable in recovering food from banquets or conferences for homeless shelters. Along with co-sponsoring the event, East Bay FoodShift walked their talk by provided lunch and snacks for the forum with food that would have otherwise been wasted, a selection of wraps, salads, and burritos that were "extra" from the Salesforce "Dreamforce" conference that took place in SF. We heard from others around the world, including more from Tristram Stuart, providing insight on the steps that the UK has taken with its public awareness campaign "Love Food, Hate Waste," and how the U.S. could follow suit. From college campuses to rock and roll concerts, from Brazil to Germany and San Diego to Chicago, we heard people taking initiatives to end a food system and a mindset that produces excess waste.[ii]

Wasting food is entirely avoidable. We must be proactive, we must be diligent. As I saw from the spectrum of waste reduction activists at the forum, ranging from entrepreneurs to volunteers, tree-hugging geeks to motorcycle enthusiasts, everybody loves food. And those that truly, deeply, madly love food, won't waste it.


[i] http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/us_hunger_facts.htm

[ii] Check out all the organizations and companies who presented at the forum: CropMobster, Falling Fruit, LeanPath, Satisfeito, FoodStar, Waste No Food, FoodLoop, PareUp, Bi-Rite market, Bon Appetit Management Company, EPA Region 10, Eureka Recycling, Food Recovery Network, Food Runners SF, Rock and Wrap It Up!, Zero Percent, CalRecycle, StopWaste.