Food For Thought

According to the EPA, 'More than one quarter of America's food, or about 96 billion pounds of food a year, goes to waste--in fields, commercial kitchens, manufacturing plants, markets, schools, and restaurants.' A new study by the University of Arizona published in Waste News estimated that food waste comprised 11.2% of all municipal solid waste in 2000, and that the average American household generates an estimated 474 pounds of food waste per year.

With over 250,000 households, City of Jacksonville residents alone could be producing 118,500,000 pounds of food waste per year! Despite all of this waste--or perhaps because of it--some people are still going hungry.

The Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Florida is one local organization that is taking food surplus and putting it to good use. It is a part of Lutheran Social Services of Jacksonville (LSS), which is best known for its extensive Refugee Services. Besides helping refugees start new lives in the USA, LSS also coordinates charity programs for many other individuals in need. Two of these programs are the Food Bank and the 'Kids Café'.

The 'Kids Café' provides healthy snacks and meals for children in after-school enrichment programs. They currently are serving approximately 1,300 children in 27 after-school programs, as well as one evening program at Stillwell Middle School that provides full meals. When children are out of school for the summer, the Kid's Café's role increases dramatically. In addition to the Kid's Café, Agency Relations Manager Joe Manasco also coordinates donations to 375 other local agencies.

Last year, the Food Bank was able to garner approximately 6 million pounds of food donations. Food drives and daily deliveries of meats, breads and other perishables from local grocery stores are crucial to keeping the Food Bank's freezer, cooler and pantry full. Volunteers of all ages make it possible for the Food Bank to get the food to those who need it efficiently.

While the Food Bank's primary goal is to feed the hungry, it is also a model for waste prevention. Of 4,174,434 pounds of food donated (through October of this year), only 1,456 pounds were disposed as trash. That is less than 1/10th of a percent! As a major alternative to disposal, over 468,000 pounds, or 11%, was given to local farmers for use as animal fodder and compost. Instead of paying to have it dumped at the landfill, the Food Bank is sending it to be naturally recycled back into the food chain – for FREE!

You, too, can significantly cut down your household-generated food waste. Simple steps that prevent food waste and save money include the following:

* Make sure you use what you buy! How often do you have to clean out rotten food from your refrigerator? If you are consistently disposing of large quantities of food, consider changing you shopping habits. Shop for less food more often, or try planning your meals ahead of time and only buying those ingredients necessary.

* Another large part of unnecessary waste isn't the food; it's the packaging. Look for items that are not excessively packaged. Also, look for packages made from post-consumer recycled materials. Consider fresh foods, especially those that are locally harvested.

* For those who have yards, composting is a great solution. Composting is inexpensive and easy to do, and in return, you get great soil for gardening and if you're lucky, earthworms for fishing! Back yard composting and grass mulching are also great alternatives to placing yard waste for collecton. Combined, yard and food waste are estimated to compose about 20% of Duval County's municipal solid waste stream. Composting these materials instead of putting them at the curb would greatly reduce collection costs, processing costs, dumping costs and landfill volume.

For more information on composting, check out our Compost Tips page or go to www.cleanup.org or call 1-800-CLEANUP. For home gardening and other tips, contact the Duval County Agricultural Extension Service at 387-8850, or online at http://duval.ifas.ufl.edu/. To find out more about Lutheran Social Services or any of their programs, go to www.lssjax.org. To get active in waste prevention in your community, check out www.greenteamproject.org.

Citations noted below:

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i Waste Not/Want Not: A Guide for Feeding the Hungry and Reducing Solid Waste Through Food Recovery, United States Environmental Protection Agency, (online, 9/25/2002) URL: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/reduce/wastenot.htm

ii Jim Johnson, 'Food Waste Soars,' Waste News, August 19, 2002, pp. 2,23