Food Waste: Bigger Than You Think

By Kaylee Shen

I guess you could call me the Olympia High School dumpster diver. Well, I don’t dive in the dumpster for food to eat, but I do “dive” through our school’s compost, trash and recycling in order to sort items into their correct bins. Every Tuesday and Thursday at lunch (when we still had school) as I dug in the compost, I would often find entire uneaten jelly sandwiches, near perfect apples, and once, an entire unopened box of chocolates the day before our school’s homecoming (ouch!). This is clearly a problem, but bigger than you think it is. Having grown up with a mom who lived in developing China with very little money, I was taught to never waste food. It was normal for me to eat broccoli stems (my favorite part of the broccoli!), take leftover rib bones and make soup, and eat the entire sandwich– including the crust (uncrustables are quite ridiculous if you think about it). Comparing the school compost to the economical life I’ve lived has made me realize what an important issue this is to me.

But, now for the bigger picture. ⅓ of all food produced for consumption is wasted [efn_note]”One third of world’s food is wasted, says UN study – BBC News.” Accessed 12 Aug. 2020[/efn_note], and yet, 1 in 8 Americans still don’t have a steady supply of food, let alone the entire world[efn_note]”Food waste is the world’s dumbest environmental problem – Vox.” 9 May. 2017, Accessed 12 Aug. 2020.[/efn_note]. We don’t need to produce more food, we just need to have more common sense in how we use it, because food waste is a huge contributor to climate change as well. If food waste was a country, it’d be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, right after the United States and China[efn_note]”Food waste is the world’s dumbest environmental problem – Vox.” 9 May. 2017, Accessed 12 Aug. 2020.[/efn_note]. Absolutely absurd! But this makes sense. Simply through logic, you can see the problem. Take a strawberry, for example. Just add the energy taken to grow the strawberry (irrigation = energy use), harvest it, process and package it (making the package = more energy), transport it thousands of miles away (if you’re not buying from a local farm), refrigerate it in the grocery store, transport it home, refrigerate it again, and finally… eat it. If you happen to throw this strawberry away, well that’s just more energy wasted in transporting it from your house to the composting facility. Now multiply this process for the hundreds of other foods you consume on a daily basis (some of which are far more processed than a strawberry). Companies like Imperfect Foods are doing their best to sell (as the name suggests) imperfect foods in an attempt to reduce waste and challenge the idea that food must look perfect in order to be safe to eat, but this isn’t enough.

We must change the way we live, and the way we think about food in order to truly make a difference. Besides eating as much of the vegetable as you can (and using the rest to make vegetable stock), simply buying less food at a time (which lets you actually finish a bag of chips before buying another) can help with your carbon footprint– and your wallet as well. You don’t even have to go vegetarian to significantly reduce your environmental impact! There are plenty of other ways to reduce food waste (just Google it!), but even being aware of this issue can help with seemingly insignificant decisions you make every day at the grocery store or your next virtual Costco purchase. And until the day we can finally realize that food waste is the world’s dumbest problem, uneaten jelly sandwiches will continue to plague high school compost bins and I will continue my fun-but-unfortunate dumpster diving adventures

Kaylee Shen sorting the compost at her local highschool
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