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JBF Impact News: Fighting Food Waste in the Kitchen

Katherine Miller

June 21, 2017

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The latest dispatch from our senior director of food policy advocacy Katherine Miller explores the efforts that JBF and other advocates across the country have made to fight food waste in cities, restaurants, and the home.

Americans don’t like waste.

But for many, food waste doesn’t seem to be an urgent problem. After all, there are a lot of other problems we need to fix immediately.

It also isn’t a very appealing issue, at least as people understand it. Do we really want to talk about waste all day? Do people really want to eat their trash? Isn’t food waste…smelly?

This is far from a small issue. Estimates show that Americans waste nearly 40 percent of all the food produced in this country, while one in six families don’t know where their next meal might come from. These food-insecure men, women, and children live in every city and every state.

Another startling figure: all that wasted food means that Americans are throwing away close to $640 each year, and perhaps even more if you include wasted leftovers, and food items that might have been sitting in the pantry for a while.

This problem seems easy to solve, almost too simple, but it isn’t. We can shop smarter, buy fewer things, keep things longer, use everything—there are lots of great, long lists of tips to follow.

But some of our notions of the problem of food waste and its solutions are changing. A new documentary, Wasted, features many of the world’s best-known chefs and culinary personalities (such as Anthony Bourdain, Dan Barber, Mario Batali, Danny Bowien, and Massimo Bottura) urging us to reduce food waste. Last year, NRDC and the AD Council launched the Save the Food campaign, which included events in cities like Nashville and Denver where chefs have helped raise awareness about ways to reduce food waste closer to home. In Washington, D.C., representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) is leading a group of bipartisan lawmakers to support bills that will help reduce food waste in home and businesses.

It’s also exciting to see the recent announcements by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute about their efforts to streamline date labeling.

And we’re doing our part. Last week we held our 12th Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change in Cold Spring, NY, the latest in our series of camps focused on educating chefs about the problem of food waste in the United States. We’re proud to work with NRDC, Food Policy Action, and the ReFED Coalition to raise awareness about the problem of food waste—and serve as a convening force to share best practices on how to fix it.

It may sound odd to be so excited about small things like date labeling, but trust us: by going from more than a dozen date labels to just two—“Best if Used By” and “Use By”—grocery aisles (and our pantry shelves) will suddenly be a lot less confusing. And a lot less expensive: we’re currently throwing out $29 billion per year, but with this simple change, we can cut food waste by 10 percent!

Another fun and easy way to help reduce food waste is by supporting the movement to eat more “ugly” fruit and vegetables, like carrots that look like people hugging, or beets shaped like hearts. These humble foods are already social media stars—more than 100,000 people follow @uglyfruitandveg and @uglyproduceisbeautiful on Instagram.

At several of our Boot Camps, we’ve invited Hungry Harvest to meet with chefs and talk “ugly,” or as they call it, recovered produce. They are one of several organizations that help these often-overlooked products find their way into home kitchens and restaurants around the country. This type of produce might not look perfect, but it still is perfectly delicious, and buying it means that it won’t end up in a landfill.

Whether you are part of a big company, a restaurant owner, or a home cook, there are ways that you can help us to reduce food waste. It is something we can all agree on and work together to change.

Big problem + simple solution = big savings, for us and for the planet.

Learn more about the JBF Impact Programs.

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Katherine Miller is JBF’s senior director of food policy advocacy. Find her on Twitter.