What food experts are telling us harkens back to the dinner table maxim about not wasting food (see Thinking Beyond the Plate and Avenues to Aid). On a macro level, food that is not harvested is thrown away, or wasted, by a variety of players in the food industry.
Myriad organizations delineate a difference between food loss and food waste. Both contribute to hunger. Food loss is food that doesn’t make it to the table for a variety of reasons; this occurs at the front end of food production. According to the USDA, food loss occurs because some food is left in the field due to “environmental or market conditions, such as cosmetic imperfections, low prices, and labor shortages.”1 What organizations are doing to remedy this could fill another blog. Harvesting, preserving, and getting it through the supply chain could get food to thousands of people.
Education and food rescue are two ways that loss can be reduced. Food banks partner with farmers and the food industry to rescue food that would otherwise have been lost. Volunteers enter fields and harvest food left in the fields. It is still nutritious but does not meet the “beauty standards” set by the USDA or grocery stores themselves. This food supplies food banks and food pantries, as well as other charitable organizations.
Food waste occurs usually at the consumer end of the food production chain. That’s where we come in. According to the World Food Program USA, while low-income countries experience the devastating effects of food loss more than high-income countries do, high-income countries have a proclivity for food waste.
Too often shoppers equate aesthetics with good quality/good nutrition. The over-emphasis on appearance explains part of our attitude toward food. Studies suggest that consumers would buy healthy food that is misshapen, bruised, or in other ways is not aesthetically pleasing. We can improve our own food literacy by getting informed about how our personal behavior contributes to food waste.
Mindful at the Market
Examining our own attitudes about how we shop, order food, and what we think is edible/nutritious is a place to start. We’ve all heard the “don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry” adage. It’s a valuable tip. Having a specific list of what to buy also reduces impulse buying, which leads to waste when we buy more than we need or can consume. Choose enough vs. excess.
Become a “food harvester.” Take inventory of the food you have, noting its “need to use by” and or its “freshness”; move items to the front of the fridge so they are visible (and then consumed). This helps reduce waste. Model behavior that encourages food awareness and conservation, while shopping, preparing, and consuming food. Have conversations about food and how we think about it.
As this COVID pandemic continues to remind us, we are influenced and affected by each other. What we do matters. Choosing to inform ourselves and challenging and changing our behaviors—one step at a time—can have repercussions way beyond ourselves.
What I do today won’t end hunger, but mindful behavior raises awareness, reduces waste, and can lead to making changes in our communities, which can have an impact on reducing hunger.
Each of us can do something. Starting small is the beginning. That can be some healthy food for thought.
What do I do? What can I do?
These resources provide more information, stats, volunteer opportunities, and topics for reflection and discussion about the topics in the last several blogs. Use them for reflection, challenge, and discussions.
- Learning to Give (resources and ideas for projects; includes guidelines for “Difficult Conversations” to have with students–or one’s family)
- Lemon Lime Adventures (includes activities for younger students)
- Project Ideas Hunger (project suggestions for various age groups)
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (ways to “help us love our food better” and reduce food waste)
- Feeding America (remarkable stats on waste, sustainability, and food rescue)
- UN Environment (defining food loss and food waste by the United Nations)
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration (reducing waste, saving money, and protecting the environment – includes animated video)
- Real Simple (interesting walk around a grocery store and why items are located where they are)
Reflection and writing for older students (and parents):
Your students or children can complete the “Food for Thought Reflection” worksheet by choosing one or more of the websites listed above that are included in the worksheet.
Ideas for things to read for families/classrooms (includes younger readers and adolescents)
NOTE: Please read the synopsis and reviews before jumping to assign them! Once you’ve begun searching, there are many places to go…
Here’s a short list of books for adolescents and chapter books or picture books for younger kids.
- Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Margaret Sidney
- 18 Children’s Books About Poverty and Hunger this is a great website that leads to other websites
- Other suggestions are on the School Library Journal website. These books deal with a combination of poverty, food insecurity, and homelessness.
- If I Ever Get Out of Here, Eric Gansworth
- Body of Water, Sarah Dooley
- The Boy Who Lied, Kim Slater
- Hold Fast, Blue Balliett
- Just Under the Clouds, Melissa Sarno
- Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse
- More Happy Than Not, Adam Silvera
- Hunger: A Tale of Courage, Donna Jo Napoli
- Being Fishkill, Ruth Lehrer
- Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell
- If Only, Richard Paul Evans
- On the Come Up, Angie Thomas
- Under the Mesquite, Guadalupe Garcia McCall