Among the many roles of the health and wellness professional is the responsibility to help people eat well. However, eating well no longer means just designing a meal plan around nutritious foods.
With ever-increasing information about where our food comes from and how our choices affect the world outside our kitchens, eating well for many people also means considering the impact our food choices have on the environment. Everyone needs to eat, and growing food will always require the use of natural resources, and some of the biggest sustainability solutions come from reducing food waste. This is the first of a series of posts that will address how health and wellness professionals can be even more strategic and effective in addressing food waste.
Food Waste in America
Estimates vary, but about 30 percent of the food produced in America is wasted. The economic and environmental impact of this waste is staggering, especially when one considers the value of food representing all of the energy, land, water, transportation, packaging and effort that was needed to bring it to our stores and homes. It also represents the cost of maintaining landfills required to dispose of uneaten food and the resulting methane, a greenhouse gas that is released into the atmosphere when food decomposes.
The human cost is also enormous. It becomes more personal when we realize the amount of food wasted, according to USDA estimates, equals 1,249 calories per person per day. Redirecting just 15 percent of our currently wasted food could feed more than 25 million hungry Americans, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Food Recover Hierarchy
A simple but useful way to think about all this waste is the Food Recovery Hierarchy proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This model recognizes that food is only wasted when we fail to use it. The top levels of the hierarchy, including source reduction, feeding hungry people and feeding animals, are the most effective ways to prevent and divert wasted food. Lower levels of the hierarchy address ways to capture some of the benefit of unused food before reaching the last, and least desirable, option of throwing it away.
Everyone has a role in recovering and redirecting food waste the health and wellness community. This series will explore some of the tangible steps that both health and wellness professionals and their clients can take to have a direct impact.
Many people feel so disconnected from the sources of their food, they may not realize the positive impact they can have on our food system. Addressing food waste is a great way to honor the harvest and inspire friends, family, and clients to make our food dollars stretch while also positively contributing to our communities.
The next part of this series will address how to reduce excess food production, since the most effective way to avoid waste is to produce and use only what we actually need.
This is the first post in a six-part series. Click below for the other posts in this series: