• Jonathan Bloom writes about why we waste food, why it matters and what we can do about it. This is his blog.

Kids Collar Collards

I rarely find the time to glean, but it’s always a pleasurable, grounding experience. This week, I had that opportunity as I helped supervise a group of 15 campers (from a community service camp!) glean collard greens.

As you can see, we did our best in filling the available delivery vehicles, including my hatchback and the camp’s short bus. All told, we harvested 2,300 pounds of greens in a few hours (with water breaks). And those greens went to five different hunger relief agencies.

I can think of few better ways to spend a morning! Plus, I got to witness the excitement that fresh produce elicited from a few residents at a women’s shelter. Meanwhile, the campers, ages 9 to 12, learned more about farming, our agricultural abundance and those in need (the campers helped prepare the collards at one shelter).

And why would a small farmer have thousands of pounds of collard greens to donate? It’s related to the season, but it’s probably not what you think.

While most folks (myself included) think of collards as a cold weather crop, these ones were not only surviving, but thriving! They were available for donation mostly because of that perception. There’s no real market for collards, as few people want to eat them in the summer. Especially when there’s so much competition from those flashy ‘summer veggies’ (that we all love)…

July 11, 2014 | Posted in Farm, Food Recovery, Gleaning | Comments closed

In Brazil

Bom dia!

Quick programming note: I won’t be posting for the next few weeks, as I’m in Brazil for the World Cup. I’m also doing a bit of research on food waste and the culinary culture here, so hopefully I’ll have some interesting nuggets to share soonish. In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying the soccer. Tchau!

June 20, 2014 | Posted in General | Comments closed

Y is for ‘Yes, Kale Can Look Like That!’

Today, when I was picking greens for dinner, I found another entry for the burgeoning Alphabet Produce series: this Kale Y.

Yes you kale!

I’ve never seen a leafy green have a fork in its own road, but I was glad to see this one. This kale leaf not only checks the ‘Y’ box, it reminds us that real food has quirks (just like us!). When the retail market enforces strict superficial limits on produce, it dooms a large amount of “non-standard” produce to being wasted.

That’s why I encourage you to enjoy deliciously unique produce any chance you can–whether it’s from your own garden, a neighbor’s, or a local farm. A few, stray examples are even creeping into supermarkets. Who knows–maybe this message is getting through: real food has curves!

June 11, 2014 | Posted in Alphabet Produce, Household | Comments closed

Falling Fruit: Foraging Friend

Ever see a bunch of rotten apples at the bottom of a tree and wish you’d arrived earlier? If only you’d known about that tree a few weeks ago…if only there was a way to map “public fruit.”

Soon, there will be an app for that.

Falling Fruit, a resource for finding global urban edibles, has reached their fundraising goal and will soon build a mobile app to allow users to locate and also document wild foods. Congrats to the Falling Fruit team and to those of us who will benefit from this tool!   Here’s more about the mobile app:

June 2, 2014 | Posted in Freegan, Technology, Tree Gleaning | Comments closed

Monday Roundup

Plenty of news from Food Waste World recently:

There’s an increased likelihood of the EU banning “best before” labels on shelf-stable foods like grains, canned goods and frozen items. The Dutch and Swedish farming ministers sent a letter recommending that course of action to the EU Agriculture Council, who discussed the issue today (but didn’t make any rulings).

image courtesy of bestbefore.org.uk— —

Friday, The New York Times ran a nice roundup of what’s new in food waste recycling. The piece includes some very interesting words on food waste from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack:

“…I see it as a multifaceted issue that has an impact on family food budgets, an impact on hunger in America, an impact on our natural resources and climate change.”

“I’ve become very sensitized to this because my wife is a relatively small person and I’m a relatively big guy. She gets the same portion size as I do when we go to a restaurant, and sometimes we take it home but often we don’t because it’s really not the kind of food you can take home.”

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The second SAVE FOOD congress sought solutions to global food waste. Here’s a brief summary.

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Britain won’t ban food waste from landfills. Resource Minister Dan Rogerson said he won’t review the policy of organic waste going to landfill, citing success with food waste awareness campaigns and such a requirement adversely impacting businesses.

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Finally, this here site was just named Sustainable Blog of the Week by the Guardian! Given my respect for that news organization, I’m truly honored.

May 19, 2014 | Posted in Casino, College, Composting, Environment, International, Waste Ban | Comments closed

Swiss Buffet Banking on Waste

The global, national or even household cost of food waste can be difficult to quantify. Yet, sometimes it’s not too hard. At the Patrizietta restaurant in Switzerland, it costs 5 francs (roughly $5) per person.

image courtesy of Katie and KayAt the Ticino area restaurant you can take all you want from the 12 franc buffet, but not finishing it will earn you a 5 franc fine. Diners are given fair warning in the menu.

The policy began last week, after Chef Giovanni Tafuro grew tired of seeing so much lunchtime waste. He said that the fine is mostly symbolic–a way to send a message to customers that taking more than you need is not cool.

In addition to raising awareness on waste, it should also communicate that food is expensive. And as food prices continue to rise, more unlimited buffet restaurants may consider these fines as an alternative to raising regular prices.

I’m all for these uneaten food fines–as long as they occur at all-you-can-eat establishments. They counter the eyes-bigger-than-the-stomach phenomenon. And they certainly make people think. Plus, they harness that all-important motivator–money!

May 12, 2014 | Posted in Restaurant, Unfinished Food Charge | Comments closed

Webinar Questions Answered

I recently had the honor of giving the first ever webinar for Food Tank. At least that’s what I’m told happened. I just spoke into my computer and hoped that people were listening. And based on the array of questions, at least a few folks were!

While we allotted 15 minutes for questions, that time just flew by. Since I couldn’t get to most of the questions, I wanted to answer the remainder here:

Q: Seems odd that one of the drivers of waste is the low cost of food and overproduction, but yet there are a large number of food insecure (not saying the numbers are wrong, just seems odd). Seems like it should be easy to solve (to the naive like myself anyway).

A: It does seem odd. And it is odd! But that’s the dysfunctional food system we now have. You’re hitting on the fundamental incongruity of food waste. That we regularly discard a potential solution to hunger. It does seem easy to solve this imbalance because it would be. Or at least it would be if we really committed to tackling hunger.

How big is the impact of biofuel/ethanol? And does that factor into the waste count as well?

I’m not entirely sure what you’re asking, but biofuels have a significant impact on our agricultural system, as they, too, require plenty of pesticides, energy, water and land usage. And crops grown for biofuels aren’t factored into the waste numbers because they aren’t classified as a food items a human could eat. (Insert school food or mom’s cooking joke here)

In your opinion what area of the foodservice industry would warrant detailed research on foodwaste.

All areas of foodservice warrant a closer look! The industry-led Food Waste Reduction Alliance is doing just that, but I’d love to see more independent studies and data on exactly where our waste is coming from. In general, all-you-can-eat and self-service are two major problem areas, though. When the two combine, it’s the worst case scenario, as it leads to great food waste, overeating and the inability to donate the remaining food (for health code reasons).

Everyone is concerned about feeding 9 billion people in 2050 – how do you feel about this?

I’m concerned! If we continue with our present rate of wasting—about 1/3 of global food supply isn’t consumed—we’ll be in big trouble by then. All the more reason to tackle our current food inefficiencies—and the sooner the better!

Read More »

May 2, 2014 | Posted in Composting, Energy, Environment, General | Comments closed

Redefining ‘Reduce’

Small bone to pick here: Several times a week I get excited by headlines like this one: Darden Restaurants Working to Reduce Food Waste.

I leap into the story, looking for confirmation that a restaurant is actually trimming the amount of food waste their kitchen and/or customers are creating. Almost invariably, I realize that they’re not doing anything of the sort. They’re either donating food, feeding it to livestock or composting it.

Don’t get me wrong–what those Darden restaurants are doing is great. Getting those food scraps to livestock–via Organic Matters–is a progressive move. But given the EPA food waste hierarchy, it’s not nearly the best step. And it’s certainly not reducing waste.

The really sad part is that most restaurants could tackle both food waste and obesity by shrinking portion sizes.  And these restaurants–Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster–could certainly do with smaller portions. That’s why it’s especially disappointing to learn that there are no actual waste reduction efforts. (There are other ways restaurants could trim food waste.)

But it’s a step in the right direction. And we’ll eventually realize that minimizing food waste is the most important step toward a healthier society and environment.

May 1, 2014 | Posted in Restaurant | Comments closed

Blown Away by Waste Buffet

On Tuesday, I gave a talk at Keene State College in New Hampshire. In conjunction with the visit, the progressive folks of Keene State Dining created this amazing tableau of waste: 

image courtesy of Keene State Dining

Dining workers pulled untouched and nearly untouched breakfast and lunch items from the plate return and assembled a visually appealing, yet haunting “waste buffet.” The attractive display was part of the point. This was not just edible, but appealing food items. Accordingly, the staff covered the food to prevent any impulse eating (and comply with health code regulations).

The students I spoke with were uniformly surprised by what they had helped create. And a few even admitted that they found the sight disgusting. And with 49 million food insecure Americans, that is a sensible response. Indeed, it is absurd that this kind of waste is commonplace on college campuses.

I found the unsullied sandwiches and whole fruits especially striking. And while I can understand leaving behind some fries for health reasons, who takes a piece of pizza and doesn’t even take a bite?!? (Sigh.)

Here are a couple more images from this wonderful awareness exercise:

image courtesy of Keene State Dining


image courtesy of Keene State Dining

April 25, 2014 | Posted in College, Institutional | Comments closed

Documenting a Week of Waste

With their Waste in Focus project, the wonderful team of photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio are doing for waste what they did for food in Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.

In the project, released last week and slated for an Earth Day exhibit in New York City’s Union Square, eight families of varying geography and backgrounds are depicted with one week of their trash. Menzel and D’Aluisio sorted and displayed the waste for the portraits to avoid altering behavior and facilitate comparison.

Charlene Wimms and Donell Brant of NYC, New York, with their children Darius Brant, 9, and Terrard Wimms, 16, surrounded by a week’s worth of their recyclables and landfill trash, in February. Recyclable items are on the left-hand side of the photo. Items destined for landfill are to the right. Their total household waste for this week was 28.9 lb. Seventy-nine percent of it (22.9 lb) was landfill and twenty-one percent of it was recyclables (6 lb).

As you can see throughout the eight photos, the families’ food waste sits on the right of each portrait (with other landfill trash), packed neatly into containers. While the clean containment of food scraps belies their unconfined environmental impact, it’s interesting to compare different families’ organic output. And on the whole, the project works wonders in raising awareness on our waste output. These images are powerful and will hopefully motivate us to reduce the amount of waste we create.

GLAD sponsored the project and provides the online forum for the beautiful, story-telling photos. The company is also a welcome addition to the coalition pushing composting forward in New York City.

April 15, 2014 | Posted in Environment, Household, Waste Stream | Comments closed
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