“Eat your dinner; there are people starving in China.” Even if you did not grow up that way, in particular, you have certainly heard the saying about cleaning your plate because there are people starving in some other country. While forcing our own children to clean their plates does not feed hungry children around the globe, certainly stopping our wasteful habits when they come to food just might. According to an article in the New York Times, 27% of the food that is available to be eaten in the United States is wasted in some way, whether as food gone bad at the grocery store, uneaten food at restaurants, or thrown away food in our own kitchens. Any way you slice it, Americans are simply wasting too much, in a time when millions around the world are going hungry.
A Nation of Waste The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that in 1997 over ninety-six billion pounds of edible food was thrown away in the United States. Two thirds of this waste is fresh produce, dairy products, sweeteners and grains. This study did not even look at grocery store and deli waste; as the New York Times points out, imagine how much left over potato salad, rotisserie chicken and so forth is thrown away every night.
When you consider the skyrocketing costs of food these days, and the waste produced during the food production cycle, added to the sad truth of continuing global hunger, it is, simply put, a shame how much food we waste. If we are to solve world hunger and stop filling landfills we need to work on this problem.
How Unilever is Uniting Against Waste One company, Unilever Food Solutions, is working to make a difference. This food group works with chefs around the world to help them create wholesome meals, and is ever present in family kitchens across the globe. In food service for over 100 years, Unilever owns a variety of notable brands including Lipton and Hellmann’s. Unilever works with a variety of restaurants and hotels to help them find that perfect balance between delicious meals that satisfy customers’ stomachs and wallets, while also being profitable.
Unilever has also made a concerted effort to help others become more green, and to be green on their own. They have begun sourcing sustainable resources for their product ingredients and packaging, with a goal of consuming less energy and producing less waste. In one study, Unilever learned that 80% of restaurant customers are concerned about the amount of food that they seen thrown away in restaurants and cafeteria’s every day. In an effort to make a difference, Unilever has started a global effort called “United Against Waste.” With this program they are trying to provide tools to those in the food service industry to reduce waste. They have an entire website set up for the effort.
What You Can Do Stopping food waste is one step in reducing overall waste, and an important step towards stopping hunger worldwide. Restaurants and other commercial establishments that serve food must step forward and take on this battle. So too must deli’s and grocery stores. And, of course, the consumer. For the food service industry reconsidering purchasing decisions, menus and portion sizes can be an important step in this direction. Partnering with customers to offer a choice in portion sizes is becoming common, as more restaurants offer a choice of lunch or dinner portion (small and large, respectively), one pancake, two pancakes, or three pancakes, and so forth. If Unilever is correct, and 80% of consumers are worries about restaurant waste, then certainly put the serving size in the hands of the consumer is a good option.
Consumers also need to step forward in their own kitchens. We all need to be more aware of what we buy, and whether we will truly get to eat it. We need to make better use of leftovers, be aware of that day old bread on the counter and be sure to get to that ground beef or avocado before it goes bad. Together, with efforts by consumers and commercial businesses, we can all make a difference and stop the waste.