Food waste is a global issue that starts on the farm and ends in our own refrigerators, said Cameron Faustman, associate dean for Academic Programs at the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.
“There’s a number of ramifications for it. It’s not just the lost nutritional value of that food, it’s the water input, the land input, the packaging, and it has huge implications both for food insecurity and hunger and for environmental issues,” Faustman said Tuesday night at “Close to Home: Connecticut-Based Efforts to Reduce Food Waste” in Storrs Hall.
Up to 40 percent of edible food is wasted in the United States, according to Feeding America. This problem starts in the field, where many fruits and vegetables that don’t have the aesthetic appeal to please consumers are left to rot, said Margaret Chatey, director of marketing and communications at the Connecticut Farm Bureau.
“The problem is that if you have a field of crops, not every one of those tomatoes, for example, is going to be perfect, so there’s always waste just inherent in growing crops,” Chatey said.
Allowing homely fruits and vegetables to compost in the field has some benefits, but many of Connecticut’s 6,000 farms are choosing to process sub-standard produce into wine, jellies and pickeled goods, in addition to donating leftovers to food banks.
“We’ll take ugly fruit, there’s nothing wrong with it,” James Arena-DeRosa, president and CEO of Foodshare, told students.
Foodshare has moved over six million pounds of donated shelf stable and perishable food to Connecticut communities so far this year, Arena-DeRosa said.
Christine Rice, clinical fellow at the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, said the program has been looking into the legal barriers to food recovery for over five years now. She said liability concerns often prevent grocery stores, restaurants and manufacturers from donating.
Inconsistent labeling between states also leads to many consumers trashing perfectly good food, Rice said. According to the clinic’s research, up to 84 percent of people have thrown away food past it’s supposed expiration date regardless of whether or not it was still edible.
Many people are concerned that the dates relate to safety, she said, but the majority of labels relate more to quality than health.
“Use your senses, use your eyes, use your taste sense, to see if these foods are safe to eat before you just throw them away,” Rice said.
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal recently introduced legislation that would standardize food labeling to reduce waste by clarifying phrases like “best used by” and “best sold by” in terms of health and safety.
Businesses also need to to reduce their footprint by taking a hard look at where food is being wasted between the loading dock, the kitchen and student’s plates, said Dennis Pierce, executive director of Dining Services.
Dining Services uses three systems, FoodPro, LeanPath and Phood, to track and predict consumption at UConn, composts trash and donates packaged cafe snacks to the Covenant Soup Kitchen, Pierce said. The department is also responsible for the upcoming “Tasty Waste Lunch” on Sept. 21, which will give students the opportunity to experience how wasted food can be put to use first hand.
The menu, created by culinary operations manager Robert Landolphi, will feature free apple infused water, vegan/vegetarian provencal vegetable soup, Brunswick stew, southwestern beef chili, corn bread, blueberry bread pudding and ice cream.
“Now that doesn’t mean we went dumpster diving. There’s a number of reasons that food might be wasted, it can be overproduction, it can be deviation from quality standards,” Faustman said. “This food is perfectly safe and we have very talented people in our department of dining services who put together a great meal plan.”
Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.