Panelist talks about food waste, food insecurity
Deb Hicks from the food rescue organization Lovin’ Spoonfuls discussed the need to change attitudes about food waste and food insecurity.
The journey of the package of strawberries was long, making its way from a field to the grocery store to the wastebasket, where it was ultimately left uneaten and wasted by the consumer. The video that chronicled this passage, “The Extraordinary Life and Times of Strawberry,” showed a familiar pattern in consumer culture — the tendency to waste vast amounts of food. According to Deb Hicks, a food rescue coordinator at the food rescue organization Lovin’ Spoonfuls, 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is wasted, an amount that could fill the Rose Bowl Stadium each day. Hicks discussed the importance of food rescue and how the country can change its culture to reduce food waste in a talk on March 26, which was sponsored by the Food Recovery Network Club.
Hicks explained that the term “food rescue” refers to the process of recovering food that would ordinarily go to waste and “mak[ing] sure it gets in the mouths of hungry people.” Lovin’ Spoonfuls picks up donations each day from grocery stores, farms and produce wholesalers. Then, food rescue coordinators like Hicks bring the donations to partner organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and food pantries. Since its founding in 2010, Lovin’ Spoonfuls has rescued more than 12 million pounds of food, per its website.
Food waste contributes enormously to climate change, Hicks said. 25 percent of the potable water used in the United States each year goes to food production that leads to waste. Additionally, food waste emits vast amounts of methane when it reaches landfills — 16 percent of methane is emitted from organic waste. If food waste were a country, Hicks said, it would be the third-greatest emitter of greenhouse gases globally, behind China and the United States. While Massachusetts banned commercial food waste in 2014, the regulations are “just a slap on the wrist” and are not heavily enforced, she noted.
Turning to the audience, Hicks asked for suggestions on how people can reduce food waste. She agreed that the most effective method of curtailing food waste, suggested by Madeline Hayman ’20, is to produce less food.
In an interview with the Justice, Hicks discussed why simply producing less is difficult. “There’s just this sense of abundance that we have that … lots of other places don’t have,” she said. “America has always been … a place where your dreams come true,” she added, emphasizing that the culture of seeking the American Dream has impacted our personal expectations of abundance. Furthermore, America views hunger as a failure to produce enough food, and people are always looking for better farming techniques to produce a larger amount of food in a more efficient way, she said.
This expectation regarding high consumption brings to light the problem of food insecurity. In the interview, Hicks cited trickle-down economic policy as the reason the United States does not have the social infrastructure possessed by other countries to alleviate food insecurity. Attendee Mariam Mahmoud MBA ’20, who is not from the United States, described her shock upon arriving in the country at the portion sizes she saw at restaurants. “People here are just used to consuming a lot of food without thinking about it,” she said. “Education around food waste definitely goes a long way,” Hicks replied that “people don’t realize that their friends and their neighbors and their relatives are food insecure.” According to Hicks, 600,000 people in Massachusetts are food insecure, along with 42 million overall in the United States. On average, “for each person, 20 pounds of food is wasted” each month, she added.
The effects of food insecurity on a person’s life are impactful and long-term, Hicks said in the interview. She said that children are “developing so quickly, and if they’re not getting the nutrition … they could be a burden on society for the rest of their lives, and that’s a huge public health issue,” she stressed.
Hicks then suggested some things people can do individually to reduce food waste. 40 percent of food waste comes from people’s homes, she said, emphasizing that people buy much more food than they need. Jordan Brill-Cass ’21 countered that many pre-packaged food items are family-sized, and that it is difficult to avoid waste with such large portions in the first place. Hicks suggested that to avoid this problem, people could buy individual items or find ways to store food to make it last longer. They could also base recipes off ingredients they already have or that are on the verge of going bad and use those to prepare meals.
Lovin’ Spoonfuls runs a “Plenty” program, which teaches people how to make recipes with various foods they may know nothing about. The program previously employed celebrity chefs for workshops, but is now run by the organization's Education Coordinator Cathy Pedtke. She mentioned the popular show “Queer Eye,” which has a segment where one of the “Fab Five,” Antoni Porowski, teaches the contestant how to cook basic meals. This part of the show is extremely important for getting people interested in cooking, especially for those who did not grow up in an environment where their parents cooked, she said.
In her interview with the Justice, Hicks spoke about the politics surrounding food insecurity, saying that she does not understand why politicians want to cut initiatives such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but is hopeful that the politics of food insecurity is moving in a positive direction. “I think that a lot of politicians are also understanding the importance of these programs,” she said, giving the example of the National School Lunch Program as a success story. She concluded, “If you look at the history of mankind, things have improved … with some bumps in the road, but I think people are becoming more aware and acting upon it.”
—Editor's Note: This article was corrected to say that the amount of food wasted would fill up the Rose Bowl stadium each day, and that Education Coordinator Cathy Pedtke now runs the Plenty Program.