Food Waste and Localism

A recent article in the Asheville Citizen Times referenced a report by Dana Gunders of the Natural Resources Defense Council – Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.  This August 2012 release highlighted that food waste is worth about $165 billion each year and one in six Americans have food insecurity.

Local economic development including localizing food systems can reduce some of the inefficiency and the author includes a general reference to this solution – “Encouraging the growth of regional food systems can help alleviate some of the losses associated with fresh products. Shorter transport times and distances would likely lead to lower ”shrink” (loss of product) during transport and could create a market for produce with a shorter shelf life at the time of harvest”.

Other localism strategies include (i) more closely matching farmer growing plans with consumer demand (ii) linking the quantity of imperfect food with the numbers of farmers markets (iii) mobilizing local labor to harvest unmarketable foods and deliver it to food banks (iv) local business associations supporting regular waste audits and collaboration across the value chains to reduce inefficiency (v) local government food waste prevention campaign that targets consumer and business values.

Recycling of containers etc has come a long way but food is “not on the radar of many Americans”. The average American consumer discards 10 times as much as the average Southeast Asian and raising the consciousness around food at the local community level is possibly a tangible leverage for mindfulness that has broader implications. At multiple levels and forums it needs to be acceptable to promote self awareness and psychological flexibility in the context of personal and community development. We need to be more attentive to how disconnected our actions are from: time (short term thinking);  place (effect on all ecosystems locally and globally); and person (our effect on others). Changing behavior is often more effective collectively and all community organizations, including education systems, have a role to play. Healthy decision making for the individual and community should be proactively informed by a local culture of caring and understanding rather than crisis.