The United States is one of the most productive agricultural nations in the world producing about $143 billion worth of crops and about $153 billion worth of livestock each year, and yet millions of Americans go hungry each year. This juxtaposition and the reasons behind it go largely unnoticed by the general public.
According to the Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans waste 31 percent — 133 billion pounds – of the available food supply at retail and consumer levels. Even more waste occurs before food even gets to our stores and homes. Some food never leaves the farm for aesthetic reasons, more is damaged or lost as it is packaged and shipped, another portion is wasted as it’s prepared at retail outlets and homes and even more just goes uneaten and is thrown into the landfill. Put another way, farmers grow 3,800 calories per person per day, and we waste 1,250 of them. In financial terms, the USDA estimated in a 2010 study that this waste is worth over $161 billion.
At the same time, according to Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, nearly one in six Americans is food insecure. Food insecurity means that someone lacks the money and resources during some or all of the year to procure adequate food. These facts are not contested, and yet general awareness that these two issues occur side-by-side is low.
To help boost awareness of this issue, Sustainable America is proud to be a sponsor and participant in the first Feeding the 5,000 event in the United States, which is coming up on October 18 in Oakland, California. Feeding the 5,000 is a U.K.-based campaign that rescues food that normally would be wasted at farms, groceries and restaurants, turns it into stews and curries, and then feeds up to 5,000 people at a large public event. Often the hungry come from homeless shelters and soup kitchens or are encouraged to attend by other charities that serve the poor. These events have been happening in the U.K. and Europe since 2009 and have served tens of thousands of meals and educated millions of people about food waste issues and solutions.
It is a festive occasion, with music playing and cooking demonstrations that showcase not only how to make delicious food, but how to minimize waste while cooking, too. It also serves as a way to raise awareness about these twin problems of waste and hunger that occur in this very prosperous nation of ours. The Oakland event is being coordinated by endfoodwaste.org, and will also include grocery giveaways of hundreds of pounds of tasty produce. Keynote speakers include Tristram Stuart, founder of Feeding the 5000; Dana Gunders of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Jonathan Bloom author of American Wasteland; and Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen and LA Kitchen.
Here’s a video from a recent Feeding the 5,000 event held in Brussels. Looks like a great time!
With your help, we will bring these types of events to other cities around the country in the months ahead. We also are in the process of building a robust website, with some initial support from the Jesse and Betsy Fink Foundation, to give the public tools and suggestions on how they can help reduce food waste. Please consider making a donation to help us achieve this important mission. If you’re interested in volunteering at the event, click here.