So I have spent the better part of my adult life working in the food industry. I have seen about every step between farm and grocery store and want to take a few minutes to talk about the issues as it relates to all of us here. But I will make the disclaimer that I am speaking for me today and nothing I say represents any statement from the company I work for. However, working for a large food company will obviously provide a certain view of the food supply chain.. Like it or not, large companies have a bad reputation in our modern world and for the most parts consumers want a local personal connection with their products. That said, large companies still handle the bulk of the food we consume in this society so what they do still has enormous implications on the food in our world.
I will cover a couple topics today, but the one I want to spend the greatest amont of time on is Waste We have heard a lot of talk about the need for food in this world, so let’s talk lay it out there to start. Depending on which study you want to believe somewhere between 30 – 50% of all food grown in the world ends up thrown away as waste. Yet more than 10% of the population is malnurished
Just think about that for a second. What this means is that we live in a world with about 7.5 billion people’ We produce enough food to feed about 12 billion people Yet we only manage to effectively feed about 6.8 billion people. That is surely oversimplifying a complex issue, but just think about that for a moment.
Now this waste has points all along the supply chain including many places you can’t control, but in America you have the greatest opportunity to reduce waste. If you look at the graph here you see many points of waste along the way from farm to table, but the greatest responsibility lies with us, the end user or consumer at the bottom of the graph. The production loss from fruits and vegetables is the other outlier at the top, but we will talk about that in a bit. Now this isn’t as true in many developing countries as their inadequate supply chains, lack of refrigeration, and poor storage solution end up with much higher losses up in the food chain, but this isn’t’ the case here. Furthermore, I would submit that what this graph is calling “waste” in areas like processing are actually much better to tolerate because almost everything that is waste in the food industry usually goes to two streams “Certa” or “Offal”. Certa and Offal are industry names for taking either dry or wet waste and sending it out to be feed for farm animals. The amount of food that is actually put to a landfill from many food manufacturing sites is very tiny, They are challenged to find solutions to complex issues. Are you aware of how much milk it takes to make a single serving Greek yogurt? Are you aware that to make the Greek Yogurt everyone loves they have to strain the protein out of milk and for every gallon of Greek yogurt, about 3 gallons of waste liquid are made. But General Mills and Chiobani still recycle that wasted onto crops or into a bio generator to make electricity. However, as consumers, we don’t have this built in secondary stream to farm animals and our waste tends to end up going to landfill. So what can we do about it?
# 1 Buy what you need……..A few years ago our family joined a CSA, a community supported agriculture, so that we could “buy local” and get our produce from a local farmer. Anyone else do this? We were feeling pretty good about ourselves when we signed up. And then the produce started coming and it turns out a lot of stuff grown by our CSA wasn’t what we really wanted. We couldn’t eat that many radishes or Rhubarb or other Midwestern vegetables and we wasted more food than I can remember.
When you go to the store, are you buying the portion size you need or what is the best value? We are such value driven shoppers, that how can we not buy twice as much produce for only 40% more money? I really loved the unit price on that carton of 60 eggs. But when it goes bad we throw it away and do we just think what a good deal we got?
Finally, If you are making the decision to buy something that will only live a short time at your hose before it is no longer edible, do you have a gameplan for it?
#2 …Stop Caring so much about produce appearance….Remember that graph that showed a large loss in fruit and vegetable production? Somewhere between 10 – 20% of produce is deemed edible but not marketable because our appearance standards are so high for our food and never make it off the farm. That statement…edible but not marketable….is just so hard to really swallow. Then at the store Grocers waste more by pitching any ugly items that it made it there so it doesn’t mess up there beautiful display.
In a world in which we Instagram our dinner, we are choosing waste over practicality for the sake of beauty. Be willing to buy the ugly fruit or vegetable..
#3 Save more and re-use more……A study back in 1987 found that those who lived through the great depression wasted half as much food as those who did not. Waste is a mindset. Who saves their bacon grease to use cooking later? Make Stale Bread into Crutons? Vegtable scrap into Stock? We have choices for what to do with our waste more often than we realize.
#4 Have a forced “leftovers” night one or two times a week….It forces you to shop in your refrigerator 1st for dinner and not to let your Tupperware containers become biology experiments of color and fuzz.
Research and try to understand food labeling….we suck at this as an industry and country…there are no uniform or universally accepted descriptions used on food labels for open dating in the United States. As a result, there are a wide variety of phrases used on labels to describe quality dates and the consumer is usually confused. A &quot;Best if Used By/Before&quot; indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. A &quot;Sell-By&quot; date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date. A &quot;Use-By&quot; date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.
As consumers we should understand that typical perishable items have “sell by” dates and that things like milk are usually good up to a week or so after that, while meats are good for a few days after which you should use or freeze. The government is passing new rules in this arena this past December to help the situation, but it is still up to us to understand it.
Outside of food waste there is one other subject I want to discuss and that is the health quality of our food in our supply chain and what you purchase. For better or worse you as consumers have the real power over the food industry. They respond to what consumers want to purchase and that is oftentimes what as perceive as healthy. This doesn’t mean that it is or isn’t really healthy, Just what is perceived. In the 80s Fat was perceived as the enemy and products lowered fat and as a result we were getting more calories from sugars and carbs. In the 90s saturated fat was deemed as the enemy and to fight that partially hydrogenated soybean oil was used to replace saturated fats, such as butter and lard, in food products. Today we realize that hydrogenated soybean oil is a trans fat that is now deemed as the worse thing of all and we should be going back to butter and keep fats in our products, so we get less of our calories from carbs. To that end products are all heading that way today. . That is just one example, but the industry will respond to what consumers want. The company I work for is now the 2nd largest organic food producer in the US and we barely made anything organic 15 years ago. We just spent an huge effort to strip out all artificial colors from our products and only because we believe it is what consumers want. Cage free eggs, Gluten Free Cereals, Hormone free meats,……the industry is responding to you as consumers. The best way to voice your desire for change is with your wallet. I will only ask that you spend some time and research on any concerns you have. There are certainly some products used in our food supply chain that may have some debatable scientific concerns. However, I sometimes find it ironic that the very progressive people who admonish those who deny the science of climate change will be the first to deny the overwhelming science that says other things are positive and safe in this world. The current science around GMO foods would be something I would put in that category. In any case, the power is in your hands so know that every decision you make in the grocery store is all a part of the large voice that determines what your food industry will provide.
Research how to source food for the
◦ Closest food distribution centers
◦ Food Assistance
◦ Community Gardens
Journal How Much Food Your Family
Think of ways you can save more of your
Discussion QuestionsDiscussion Questions
1. Did you know how much of our world food supply
goes to waste? Is it surprising or not?
2. What do you think are your household’s biggest
opportunities to reduce food waste?
3. What have you seen as the best opportunities to feed
4. What food items are you willing spend extra on for
things like Organic, Free Range, Hormone Free, etc?