By Kerensa Konesni For The Bulletin
The national coalition Feeding America is making an effort to reduce food waste in the United States by facilitating partnerships between supermarket organizations and local food pantries to ensure unsold fruits and vegetables, meat, non-perishable foods and personal care items get to the mouths and hands of consumers instead of the hills of a landfill.
Through this partnership, food and other items that are close to reaching an individual store’s often conservative “sell by” date are channeled to community food insecurity programs. Similarly, so-called blemished foods — perfectly good apples with superficial flaws that no one will buy in a store — are turned over in vast quantities.
Food pantries are matched with grocery suppliers through the CT Food Bank. Organizers say Daily Bread and other community programs run out of the Living Faith United Methodist Church on Grove Street in Putnam try to do the most responsible thing every step of the way, in a bid to make sure that volunteers and the programs they support are practicing what they preach.
“We take it a step further, either by putting items in the composter or by sharing with the Community Cafe and Community Kitchen, so that the clients that come to those programs who may not necessarily be clients of the food pantry can take items home with them,” said Peterson.
Volunteers have helped to connect Daily Bread to additional resources in the region, beyond what the CT Food Bank provides. One, a Big Lots employee, began a partnership with the Webster, Mass., store when the donor ran into trouble finding a donee to accept the products.
Just recently, the Cumberland Farms in Putnam and Thompson began contributing is excess product to local food pantries. “It was going in the Dumpsters before, so it’s really a win-win situation for everyone,” she said.
Peterson credits the different agencies and organizations that have taken the efforts to put these partnerships in place, allowing fresh and nutritious — and often, therefore, the most costly — items to get into the refrigerators of food insecure families.
According to Feeding America, one in eight Americans is categorized as “food insecure,” or just plain hungry, in less formal terms. By the numbers, it should not be so.
But the organization, which tracks US hunger statistics and connects people to resources, says that nearly half of the food grown, processed and transported in the United States each year ends up in a landfill or incinerator instead of on a plate as part of a balanced meal.
That’s 72 billion lbs of food with an estimated worth over $218 billion — all of which is essentially turned into environment-crippling garbage in perverted form of alchemy.
In 2017, Feeding America and its network kept 3.3 billion pounds of groceries from experiencing that fate. But it will take personal responsibility at home, at the workplace, and in public to make a greater dent in reversing food waste, ensuring resources get to where they are needed most and saving consumers at the checkout line.
“We’ve become selective in the foods that we purchase and as a result of that a lot of what’s grown and what gets to a supermarket then gets thrown out,” As for who is part of the problem? “We all are,” said Peterson.
“We all need to be more conscientious about what we are throwing away. Don’t buy more food that you’re going to eat. Compost food scraps to cut back on trash. Learn what the “sell by,” “best buy,” and “use by” dates actually mean — often they are misleading. Eat the ugly potatoes.
“They may be ugly, but they are perfectly edible,” said Peterson. Most recently, Feeding America made headlines for securing more than a million dollars in donations for victims of Hurricane Florence relief.
In a release to media over the summer, Carol Medlin, Chief Impact Officer at Feeding America, said, “With a network of 200 food banks across the country, we are in a unique position to address hunger and improve the health and well-being of the 46 million people who turn to us for help.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website touts the benefits of reducing food waste as saving money, conserving energy and resources, cutting methane emissions and supporting the community.