While Michael Pollan may be recognized as the icon of the local farm economy, it’s Tristan Stuart who has become the face for the fight against food waste. In his TED talk, he shows a graph plotting the staggering amount of food surplus in western countries that gets thrown out—including from America, which produces four times the amount of food that it uses while there are still people starving both nationally and internationally.
Ancient cultural codes against waste, such as the ones still practiced in China where every single part of a vegetable and animal is eaten—from the fish’s lips to its tail—spread thin with increasingly corporate cultures and standardized expectations for food and commodities.
Tomatoes must be perfectly round. Potatoes, oblong. Parsnips must be identical in shape and bruised bananas, even though they are perfectly edible, immediately go to the dump. The end crusts of fresh bread loaves go to landfills because the preference for the white center. Salad leaves rejected for the higher quality salad hearts, rot several feet away.
The stories go on, but luckily, all over the world, activists and organizations are taking action by re-using the discarded food, re-inventing the definition of food, and initiating the modern renaissance of food. The organizations call not only for an awareness of food waste, but also for the restoration of food to its historical precedent of gratitude, reverence, and imperfection.
Disco Soupe, a non-profit founded in Germany, sets up gatherings for people to peel, cut, and cook discarded food gathered from local markets, restaurants, etc. The events have spread across Europe and even to New York City. They always have a good DJ or musician, and feel very much like a party with good conversation about food.
Another organization called FoodShift, located in Oakland California, redistributes excess food from organizations to people in need. It is unique in that it moves “beyond charity” in its proclamation as an integral part of the new green economy. The organization members see “food recovery as a necessary component of a just and sustainable food system” and sees food recovery as a future source of green jobs.
Then, serving all of the United States, Food Cowboy is using technology—specifically an app—to link shippers with surplus food and food banks. The shipments of food that truck drivers frequently discard for cosmetic reasons are easily directed to a local shelter, non-profit, or charity. The unique business model that aptly uses technology to connect local groups to food has inspired a partnership with the USDA (Department of Agriculture) to identify more innovative solutions to food waste.
For more information, see Technology Innovation Council.