The MVP of food waste
What I talk about when I talk about the big game (and all that food), how the USDA is funding food waste, and a fancy new home compost solution.
Some of us watch the Super Bowl for football. (Not me.) Or the halftime (me sometimes), the commercials (definitely me) or the food (please invite me to your party). Whatever your reason, let’s consider what a colossal eating moment the game is – at the stadium, in the parking lots, at bars and in our homes. I’m overwhelmed by this potential for food waste.
Wondering how much exactly? No exacts, but the National Football League estimates there may be as much as 140,000 pounds of donate-able food and beverages generated by Super Bowl events.
Food waste used to be a blah topic, but we’re more aware of its damage to our ecosystem–the work to grow, pick, process, transport, sell, prepare, and so on. Food waste is finally a compelling problem to solve. Even the USDA, which manages laws around food and agriculture, is looking at what we waste. In 2022-2023, the federal agency invested $9.4m dollars in compost and food waste programs across the country.
That’s a nice chunk of change. So where’s the money going? Here are a few:
An on-site composting and food waste reduction program at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which is working towards a closed-loop on-site solution. Did you know: LAX is the 2nd busiest airport in the country (after Atlanta) and moves 88-million people a year. (That’s a lot of food waste.)
Seneca Nation of Indians in New York is working to redirect food and water waste from landfills/sewage to be utilized by Gotgweonyo Farms (a community garden) as organic fertilizer.
Massachusetts will secure a permitted site in the city of Boston with the capacity to take all of the city’s food scraps and soiled paper. I’m a bit surprised this isn’t already happening. And it sounds like something that will take too long, but the alternative of doing nothing is so much worse.
Kansas City neighborhood compost program will decrease the amount of food waste entering Kansas City landfills. It’s one of the few projects noting a tangible goal to create 1,000 new composters in the first year and reduce waste taken to landfills by 1% in its first 24 months.
Big hand clap Emoji for Sonoma county. It will expand existing collaborations with Zero Foodprint (ZFP) to scale and optimize scaling carbon sequestration projects. This includes the expected increase of 10,000 tons of compost created annually. It will increase access to compost for agricultural producers, reduce reliance on fertilizer, improve soil quality, increase rainwater absorption, reduce municipal food waste, decrease food insecurity, and engage businesses in zero waste and circular economy.
There’s a bunch more. See if your city or county is included. Take a look here.
Back to last Sunday’s game. Was all that waste captured? Did we get it to people in need - who are near the top of the EPA’s food recovery pyramid? Yes! And we can thank the Food Recovery Network, a student lead organization that began at the University of Maryland, for figuring out how to make this happen. FRN’s crew of students had to work fast. Because of the nature of donations, they had turn it around in two hours.
Eight volunteers from Northern Arizona University's FRN chapter loaded it into a refrigerated truck and delivered it to the Phoenix Rescue Mission. All in, FRN donated 2,907 pounds of surplus food, equivalent to 2,423 meals to Hope for Hunger Food Bank, which is managed by the Phoenix Rescue Mission. The primary foods collected were prime cuts of beef and whole fresh fish—these are typically harder to obtain, which makes them invaluable.
Even fancy condiments like specialty pickles and mustards were donated. (I’ll take those.) FRN will even take slightly softened ice cream! (Wow.) "Softened ice cream isn't bad. You can make milkshakes with it," they said. All jokes aside, I think that any event bigger than 500 people should be required to have a food waste plan registered with the city that it’s in. Instead of earnest volunteers, let’s make these paid jobs that people can apply for, and food that never sees the word waste.
Okay. Down from my Super Bowl soapbox. Another pro tip: when you see food in your fridge that you can’t use because you have a busy week, cut it up (for example eggplant or broccoli) and throw it in the freezer. Your future self will love you.
When I read about The Mill, a home composter with a subscription model that claims to de-stink and de-mess the food waste at home, I kinda was like, but why? For $33 you get a fancy looking Muji-style bin that comes with a mail-in program that delivers your garbage to farms. But, I thought, I live in a county that picks up my green waste already. I’m diligent about putting my food scraps and garden cuttings into the big green bin, which is picked up weekly. Without lifting too many fingers, waste makes it to farms as organic compost. (Hate the mess or the smell? Pro tip: keep your compost in your freezer.) Anyways, I didn't see the problem until I read through the USDA list to see how many cities and counties were still missing a closed loop system: food waste → waste management → farms.
The shifting composition of foods…For those that track health related problems that come from ultra processed foods, read this piece in Stat News. A highlight for me: “If the FDA had paid more attention to the shifting composition of our foods fueling the explosion of chronic illness, our Covid death toll might have been reduced by as much as one third.”
Where you can find me:
I’ll be an MC again this year at Future Food Tech’s “Step Up to the Plate” in San Francisco on March 15th and 16th. Don’t miss the antics. (Last year there was a stage rush for Meati’s mycelium chicken and steak.)
Despite last weeks newsletter, there *are* brands doing it better and small brands crafting even more delicious bars. You can try some at this online chocolate tasting from the Heirloom Cacao Preservation on March 30th at 12pm EDT. Your $30 ticket includes a bar mailed to your home to taste along with the experts.
Thanks for reading Technically Food! Every subscription brings me rays of sunshine.
Very impactful piece of writing. Not only US but Food Waste is such a huge Global Problem