Guest blog by Ella Diamond of Food Waste 4 Thought
Have you ever tossed out a mushy, old head of lettuce, thinking that it’ll break down within a few days or a week? It’s only lettuce, you think to yourself. It’s natural, so it must not take too long to decompose. Shockingly, landfill excavations have found instances of it taking 25 entire years for a head of lettuce to decompose! When food gets dumped in landfills, it tries to break down, but it doesn’t have the available oxygen, causing it not only to remain intact, but also to release methane gas into the atmosphere. This greenhouse gas, more potent than carbon dioxide, makes food waste a main contributor to climate change as it accounts for the largest source of municipal waste in landfills. Meanwhile, a staggering one third of food produced worldwide is wasted when this food could be feeding all of the world’s food insecure individuals.
As soon as I heard these astonishing facts, I knew that I needed to do something that would make a difference. As hard as I looked, there was no plausible explanation for why so much food is being wasted when this food could be providing valuable nutrients to the world’s hungry population. In reality, the global fiasco is deeply rooted in our throw-away society and our misconceptions about how to care for food.
I originally stumbled across the topic of food waste when I began to notice how little value is placed on food. As a sixteen year old living in Los Angeles, the world around me is obsessed with food; yet, ironically, food is undervalued and viewed as a replaceable resource.
As I began to be more conscious of what I ate in my own life, I inherently noticed the tremendous amounts of nutrients that were mindlessly tossed every day, whether it was at my school or in the dumpsters that I began to inspect behind grocery stores.
However, awareness was only the beginning of my food waste journey. As a junior in high school and a Girl Scout for the past twelve years, I decided to pursue the most prestigious honor in Girl Scouting, the Gold Award. This achievement requires a minimum of eighty hours tackling a community issue that the individual is passionate about and is sustainable in a measurable way.
When my food waste passion coincided with my Gold Award opportunity, I knew I had found the topic for my project. I began with numerous hours researching everything I could find on food waste. From newspapers to Ted Talks to documentaries to reports, I became utterly inspired by the food waste community unfolding before my eyes. With the virtual guidance of these food waste advocates, such as Rob Greenfield, I learned that a large portion of waste can be traced back to restaurants and consumers.
For my Gold Award, I connected local restaurants with food rescue organizations in order to save excess, yet perfectly edible, food. The day I decided on my project, I set out to every supermarket and restaurant that I could think of in my neighborhood. Most of the stores I talked to that day either had some form of a system already in place or specific excuses, such as time restraints or, simply, a lack of interest. The last place I visited was a new and local restaurant. After explaining the project to a waiter who worked there, I contacted the restaurant owner, who was willing to take part in this initiative with me. I then got in touch with a local food rescue organization called Food Finders to determine the criteria required for food collection.
They were overjoyed to hear about my project, and after countless email chains and in-person meetings, a food recovery system began. In the last three months, one restaurant alone has donated more than 120 pounds of food to homeless shelters, after-school programs, and senior citizen centers. Since then, I have extended such programs to two other restaurants who are committed to helping people and helping the environment.
In terms of the individuals responsibility, I led four lessons for fellow Girl Scouts as well as my school’s environmental club to teach young individuals how they can fight food waste on a daily basis. I focused on the importance of composting, shopping mindfully and repurposing food scraps (we even made hummus out of broccoli stems!). As I also wished to spread my project to the greater community beyond Los Angeles, I created a website that acts as an information hub for food waste. For more information, please visit www.foodwaste4thought.weebly.com.
Throughout this project, I have learned the enormous impact that our actions have on the community around us and the greater environment. In your own life, you can tackle food waste by composting, buying the right amount, asking restaurants and markets what they do with their excess food, and signing petitions online and in your community to advocate for policy change. The Earth is here to support us, and in exchange, it is our duty to support it.
This is a guest blog post by Ella Diamond and is part of a series of guest blogs from people who have been inspired in part by Rob Greenfield to join the movement to reduce food waste and work with our communities to make sure everyone has enough food to eat. For more information on how you can be a part of the solution to food waste see Rob Greenfield’s resource guide: Solutions to the Food Waste Fiasco.