Fighting Food Waste

06 Feb Fighting Food Waste

By Juliana Avery

Utah Community Action’s Nutrition program is focused on health, education and self-sufficiency. We fight hunger in our communities by serving more than 4,500 meals per day to school children, even during summer break. Our Real Food Rising program uses sustainable farming methods to produce food that is used in food pantries and soup kitchens across Salt Lake County, while also providing the next generation with leadership and service opportunities through our youth programs.


Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about food waste and how it impacts communities like ours. How can Utahns adopt best practices and help those in need by stopping local food waste?

This week in Davos, Switzerland the BBC reported on a BBQ held by the Brazilian-based food charity Gastromotiva. [Source:] The food for the event was trucked in as waste from Zurich, Switzerland bringing awareness to the amount of edible food wasted in the global community on a daily basis. But just how much is it?

In 2015, The United Nations Environment Programme Regional Office of North America (UNEP) stated that “Every year, consumers in industrialized countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (222 million vs. 230 million tons).” [ ]

According to a 2016 blog post by the National Resources Defense Council of the United States (NRDC) “If food waste around the world was a country, it would rank third behind China and the U.S. in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.” []  This refers to the fact that as rotting mounds of food decompose they give off methane gas, which absorbs heat from the sun and warms the atmosphere, in other words creating a greenhouse effect.

To put the situation in a perspective that’s closer to home, the NRDC also stated that “In the U.S., we waste enough food to fill a 90,000 seat stadium every day.” That’s about the size of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. The United States spends over $2 billion a year growing and processing food that is never eaten. [}

What does that mean for communities and families?

In the United States, the leading cause of hunger is poverty – in Utah we know that an estimated 360,000 people live below the poverty line. 1 in 7 Americans is food insecure, meaning that they don’t have reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food.

So how can we better serve the members of our communities and solve food waste at the same time?

There are many steps you can take individually or with your family. Here are just a few ideas inspired by UNEP and

  • Meal plan & shop with a list
  • Donate to a local food bank
  • Make leftovers into soups and casseroles that can be frozen
  • Compost!
  • Avoid trays at all-you-can-eat dining facilities and use smaller eating dishes at home to reduce over-portioning
  • Educate yourself on the shelf-life of the produce you use regularly at home
  • Pay attention to expiration dates on canned goods and rotate the contents of your pantry frequently

The NRDC is working in Nashville, TN, to pilot new approaches with a view towards reducing food waste and redirecting surplus food to people in need. Linda Breggin, Project Coordinator of the Nashville Food Waste Initiative, said that they “will share lessons learned with cities around the country so that they can replicate successful approaches.”

Utah Community Action is known for innovative pilot programs like this one, and we’re looking forward to seeing the results from Nashville and applying the lessons they’ve learned in our Nutrition program.

Food waste impacts not just our Nutrition program, but also our Head Start students. Providing food security for families and children is critical for learning because only a fed child can be an engaged child. Because we understand that our children are the future we’re investing in that future, one meal at a time.

We assist income-eligible families with services including Adult Education, Case Management & Housing, HEAT, Head Start, Nutrition and Weatherization to help them achieve self-reliance.