Food waste is a problem that escapes the attention of even the most food-obsessed locavores.
You may think of food waste as scraps leftover from a home-cooked meal or the uneaten portion of food scraped from your plate at a restaurant, but it actually refers to the now-black rainbow chard or fuzz-covered raspberries sitting in your fridge and the day-old muffins at your neighborhood bakery that are tossed in the trash.
All were perfectly fine foods prepared for consumption but were wasted due to poor planning.
“Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce for consumption,” according to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland and the Wasted Food blog. “That comes at an annual cost of more than $100 billion. At the same time, food prices and the number of Americans without enough to eat continues to rise.”
Taking steps to reduce food waste in your home or business will save you both time and money. The following local organizations not only seek to reduce the region’s food waste, but they also have some helpful hints on how to reduce food waste in your home (or business) kitchen!
Create a Zero-Waste Kitchen
When you subscribe to community-supported agriculture (CSA), you are committing to a paradigm shift that forces you to plan and wisely use your regular delivery of organic, locally grown food. Ideally. That’s where Katherine Deumling, president of the board of Slow Food USA, comes in. Deumling prides herself in having a zero-waste kitchen, and emphasizes cooking simple, delicious, fun and satisfying meals that inspire people to avoid last-minute trips to the store or rely on takeout. She focuses on teaching CSA subscribers how to use everything in their delivery. And although the Cook With What You Have classes are offered in Deumling’s kitchen, she is willing to visit your crisper bin as well.
Take Action: Deumling says her two best friends in the kitchen are a carton of eggs and a food processor. With these two items, pretty much any food can be repurposed, either into a salad dressing, or by making last night’s leftovers become tomorrow morning’s frittata. For example, if you combine a few eggs and a half loaf of stale bread, you’ll have a delicious bread pudding dessert in less than a half-hour.
Harvest Fruit in Your Neighborhood (But Not From Your Neighbor’s Yard)
The Rose City was once a small town surrounded by acres of farmland and fruit trees, which is why it’s likely you’ve experienced stepping over rotten fruit on your neighborhood sidewalk. But imagine if, instead of rotting on the sidewalk, the fruit was harvested and diverted to emergency food boxes. Enter the Portland Fruit Tree Project (PFTP), an organization committed to harvesting and caring for urban fruit trees, with nearly all the fruit harvested donated to the Oregon Food Bank.
Take Action: If you own a fruit tree, register it with the PFTP and organizers will schedule a harvesting party or a group or benefit harvest. The PFTP holds monthly food preservation and tree care classes, so come learn how to turn all those apples into apple butter!
Track Your Food Waste
In 2004, Andrew Shakman noticed a trend: Food prices were increasing while menu prices were staying flat. Consumers weren’t bearing the brunt of increased food prices; restaurants and dining facilities were. As a result, the Portland native created LeanPath to help food establishments learn how to reduce food waste. LeanPath focuses on reducing food waste at the point of sale, helping colleges, hospitals and corporate dining facilities reduce waste.
Take Action: It may seem obvious, but simply weighing and tracking how much food waste you create will help you realize how much you prepare for consumption, while also giving you benchmarks to reduce. “It’s when we don’t pay attention that we get in trouble,” Shakman says.
Fork Over Leftover Edible Food to Hungry Portland Neighbors, Not Landfills
Despite careful planning, at the end of the day, you or your business may be stuck with leftover edible food and unsure of what to do with it. Jennifer Erickson, a senior planner at Metro, seeks to ensure that leftover edible food ends up in the bellies of hungry Portland residents and not the region’s landfills. Fork It Over! is a program that informs stores and restaurants of food donation regulations while also providing a list of food rescue agencies. Introduced in 2003, most of the information used to be shared via paper newsletters and fliers, but a mobile-friendly version for busy professionals will be launched this winter.
Take Action: If you operate a restaurant or food business and regularly have extra food at the end of the day, keep an eye out for the new version of the website to be rolled out this winter, which will provide a map-based tool that will allow you to connect with food rescue agencies based on location and the type of food you have to donate. Although these tools have been a part of Metro's Fork It Over! website since 2005, the new version promises to streamline these functions for increased usability and ease.
Glean Leftover Food From Crops, Grocery Stores and Farmers’ Markets
There are a number of Bible verses that condone the practice of gleaning—collecting leftover crops from a field after it is commercially harvested. In present-day Portland, Urban Gleaners collects food from grocery stores or farmers’ markets and then provides it to underserved populations. Urban Gleaners has a Food to Schools program that diverts a portion of the food it gleans to elementary schools in East Portland where 75-90 percent of the children live below the poverty line. The Hollywood Senior Center started its own gleaning program in May 2011 and has since collected and distributed nearly 20,000 pounds of food to low-income seniors.
Take Action: If you have an event and know that there will be leftover food afterwards, consider having gleaners come and collect it. If you are near the Hollywood area and have food to spare, contact Heather Wilkinson at the Hollywood Senior Center at 503.288.8303.
Donate Produce to the Oregon Food Bank
The Oregon Food Bank (OFB) is ultimately the final destination where most rescued food waste is diverted, and with good reason: The Oregon Food Bank has provided a million emergency food boxes in each of the last two years. As USDA commodities decrease, the OFB has developed programs to incorporate local food into these boxes. The Harvest Share program provides fresh produce for free at farmers’ market-style distribution sites around the metro region, but this program is only available based on the amount of donated produce.
Take Action: In response to the varying availability of produce, the OFB started the Plant a Row program in 2011. If you are a gardener, the Oregon Food Bank encourages you to set aside a row specifically to grow food for donation. You can also start a food drive at your work, church or school. If you run a grocery store and have perishable food to donate, the OFB will pick it up in refrigerated trucks through its Fresh Alliance program, distributing it to hungry families within 24 hours.