The Coronavirus pandemic has brought climate change and global inequality to a new intersection point that hits close to home for all of us: food.
Restaurants, schools, entertainment venues, and other food distribution points around the country are closed due to Coronavirus. Such closures directly impact our planet and the well-being of our society as food waste and food insecurity increase.
(“The Bay Area’s” ABC7: San Francisco)
Food Waste and Our Planet
Farmers planted crops months ago—and now that their clients (restaurants, schools, etc) are closed, much of that food gets wasted.
(Sladky, A pile of ripe squash)
Food waste is underestimated when it comes to climate change. It’s not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of carbon emissions, but Project Drawdown, one of the world’s leading research organizations focused on achieving global carbon neutrality, ranks food waste as the third most important category with regards to climate change. In other words, of all the climate-friendly solutions in the world, reducing food waste has a greater potential to solve climate change than any other action besides adopting cleaner refrigeration technology and harnessing wind energy.
How is it that food waste is so bad for our planet? Well, think of all the steps involved with food production: deforesting farmland, synthesizing and applying pesticides, running farm machinery, processing and packaging goods, transporting those goods by road and by air—the emissions all add up. And when we waste a whopping 40% of our food, that’s 40% more resources wasted, energy guzzled, and carbon emitted than should be. Furthermore, the wasted products themselves—discarded food items—release methane when they rot.
When food service markets shut down, we waste significantly more than 40% of our food, because crops are tossed out in the beginning stages of production. Before the crisis, 21% of our croplands and 18% of our freshwater went to food that would later be wasted. Those numbers are only going up due pandemic.
(The Food Production Chain. CDC)
Food Insecurity and Food Banks
As shut-downs continue to impact our food system, it is getting harder and harder for people to access food. Additionally, millions across the country are recently out of jobs and relying on food banks for survival. In my hometown, Atlanta, Georgia, the number of people who are can’t get the healthy food they need rose from 900,000 before the pandemic to 1.5 million, and is growing quickly.
(Luther, People wait in their cars)
So on one hand we have a food waste crisis, and on the other we have a food access crisis; shouldn’t there be a way to get the food that is wasted to those that need it? We could really kill two birds with one stone if we could relocate the surplus food on farms to the places where food is scarce. In other words, why is it so hard to get what is leftover on farms into the hands of those that need it? For farms, this is an expensive step because items have to go through processing and transportation (see “The Food Production Chain” above) before it can be donated. Food banks around the country are stepping in, conducting “food rescue” missions, which involve buying goods from farmers and manufacturers at a fair price, and distributing them at localized points to the community.
While food banks are mainly focused on serving healthy meals to as many people as possible, they are also fighting other related issues. For example, much of the food handed out would have otherwise been wasted, which saves big on carbon cost.
(Oquendo, The pantry is open)
I started a fundraiser for my local food bank in Atlanta with the goal of raising $1,000 in one week. I sent out this video to friends and family and asked them to donate and then share the video with three more people via email. It is very important that we help food banks help us during these hard times—read the Call to Action below and see what you can do!
Call to Action!
The best way to continue fighting food waste and food insecurity is to make sure food banks have funds and volunteers to run food rescue missions. I believe food banks to be some of the most important organizations in our country right now amidst the Coronavirus crisis.
1. Find your local food bank here and help them by donating. If you aren’t able to donate, go out of your way to thank the food service workers and volunteers in your life!
2. Think about how your actions impact food waste. Do you overbuy at the grocery store or perhaps avoid buying food with a close expiration date? Do you ever buy local or “misfit” produce? What other ways can you reduce your food waste personally?
3. Right now, non-profits are taking the lead in food rescue, but some small businesses are addressing food waste as well. Check out Apeel Sciences and Misfit Market. Compare their approaches to the issue and reflect on a couple of things you like about both businesses.