Stories / Impact

Impact ABCs: Food Waste

Maggie Borden

November 30, 2016


As James Beard famously said, "food is our common ground." We all share the experience of considering how to feed ourselves and our families—what to buy, what to make, when to eat. Those decisions may seem subjective and straightforward, but as you move beyond the quotidian and start thinking about how that meal gets to your plate, things get a little more complicated. The passionate cooks and eaters of tomorrow need to not only know how to whip up a delicious meal, but also what our choices mean for our food system as a whole. That’s why, in support of the JBF Impact Programs, we present this ongoing series on common food-policy terms: Impact ABCs. So dig in, get invested, and learn how you can make a difference in improving what’s on our global table.


Food Waste, according to the USDA, refers to any food produced for human consumption that is not ultimately eaten. Some organizations, like the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) break down the overall issue into “food loss,” which occurs in the supply chain before food hits retailers (i.e., at harvesting, post-harvesting, processing, or distribution); and food waste, which occurs at the retail and consumption stages. For example, fruit or vegetables that are not picked or packaged for supermarkets because of cosmetic blemishes (cracks on apples, or misshapen carrots) are considered “food loss,” because they never even make it to store shelves. The pile of French fries you could only get halfway through at the restaurant that gets tossed in the trash, or the spoiled milk in your fridge, on the other hand, are considered “food waste.”

In 2015 the USDA announced the first national goal for food waste reduction, aiming to decrease waste by 50 percent by 2030. To that end, it has launched the Food Waste Challenge, which offers opportunities and suggestions for both individuals and businesses. Private organizations have also started waste-fighting campaigns, such as the NRDC and ReFed, a data-driven guide to solving food waste in America. And food waste has become a topic of Congressional debate, with new bills being proposed in the House and Senate in late 2015.

Tackling food waste, however, is something any person can do. Check out these tips from JBF Boot Camp alum Steven Satterfield, as well as some of our delicious waste-free recipes to start reducing your food-waste footprint today.

Learn more about the JBF Impact Programs.


Maggie Borden is associate editor at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.