Food, Glorious Food – A Valuable Resource

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February 3, 2017

“You waste life when you waste good food” 

                                                    – Katherine Anne Porter

Not a soul would go to bed hungry if we did not waste the food we grow. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that one-third of food produced for human consumption worldwide is lost or wasted annually. That accounts for 1.3 billion tons of food that could be used to alleviate hunger.

We first learned about this at a Lifestyle Medicine Conference in October, and heard it repeated many times at an inspiring conference we attended this week arranged by FoodTank. The speakers and panelists at the conference, passionate experts in food policy, drove home from many angles how having available, affordable, healthy food is the basis for normal brain development in children and the growth of peaceful, productive societies. Global food availability is essential for our own population’s health, financial security and national security.

Loss of a third of food produced around the world leaves many people inadequately nourished.

The reasons for food loss or waste may be due to

• overproduction and failure to harvest at the farm
• post-harvest loss, for instance during transport
• processing issues anywhere from farm to table
• produce left on shelves at stores, with additional deliveries being refused by the store, and finally,
• unused foods at home that we discard.

Not only does this food NOT go to feed the hungry, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas, when it rots in landfills. This gas has 20 times as much heat-trapping capacity as carbon dioxide does, and harms our air, water and earth. Environmentalists are also keen on fighting food waste in that it contributes to climate change – a serious problem potentially threatening the existence of mankind in the long term.

So, how do we prevent food waste? One solution to this problem is food banking, which helps feed the hungry and protect the environment. Food banks, like the Capital Area Food Bank, capture the nutritious, perfectly edible surplus food and redistribute it to feed the hungry through a network of agencies – school programs, food pantries, soup kitchens, AIDS and TB hospices, substance abuse clinics, after-school programs, and other nonprofit programs.

In the DC area, we’re fortunate to have Hungry Harvest, a company that I (MJS) just joined after hearing about it at the FoodTank Summit. What a great concept – they deliver ‘ugly’ produce that might not sell at market, as well as surplus from farms and supermarket deliveries, to paying customers on a regular basis – every 1 or 2 weeks. For each paid delivery, they donate 1-2 pounds of food to those in need. Once you’ve signed up, others you refer get a 25% discount on an order. If you say I referred you, my 25% will go back to feed the hungry. They also provide ideas for ways to use produce that’s unfamiliar (in case you can’t find enough recipes on this website!).

 Apart from this, we have the responsibility to reduce food waste in our homes. How do we achieve it? Here are some of the ways that will help us adopt a waste-less mindset:
• Maintain the fridge at the right temperature to keep the fruits and vegetables fresh. Make sure to pack them properly so that they remain fresh for a long time and so you can see what you have available.

• Avoid throwing out good food – Make soups, smoothies or simple grill the leftover ripe vegetables and fruits. Freeze or refrigerate leftovers. Check out the website for great ideas. For instance, the tomato section has a salsa recipe and ways to add tomatoes to other dishes.  If you know of events that regularly have leftover food, have the organizers work with a local food bank, or give it away for employees to use at home, rather than discard it.

• Learn to understand the use-by and best-before dates, as these stamps were designed to communicate peak freshness and have nothing to do with food safety. The information from the USDA site is as follows:

• A “Best if Used By/Before” indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

• A “Sell By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date. 

• A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at PEAK quality. It is not a safety date.

• Except for infant formula, dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety and are not required by Federal law.

• The quality of perishable products may deteriorate after the date passes, however, such products should still be safe if handled properly. Consumers must evaluate the quality of the product prior to its consumption to determine if the product shows signs of spoilage.

• Avoid the tendency to overbuy food that is relatively cheap and attractively packed.

• Buy the imperfect looking fruits and vegetables that are still tasty and nutritious.

We could make this world a better place by preventing food waste and protecting the environment. We have been thinking about this for while since realizing at the Lifestyle Medicine conference that we have all been contributing to this problem.  There are simple things we can do to reduce wastage. For example, after preparing a meal, we might throw the remainder of perishable fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator. What usually happens is that there may be a bit of a squash, a piece of a cauliflower or cabbage, one small zucchini and a bunch of carrots. Some may end up in a drawer, to be re-discovered only after they’ve gone bad. Now that I’m more aware of the magnitude of food waste, I choose to cube all these leftover vegetables, add a cup of lentils and make soup. (AN)

Do you have a backup plan for the leftovers in your fridge? In the next blog, we will discuss simple healthy recipes prepared from leftovers! 

For more food safety information, see these sites: USDA and FDA


FoodTank – you can tune in to some of the talks we heard at the February 2nd conference. Remember – sign up and mention Marsha Seidelman and an extra 25% will go to feed the hungry!

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