Elizabeth Olsen’s Perspective: Why Food Waste Matters

Elizabeth Olsen
April 19, 2017
by Elizabeth Olsen

The day before Thanksgiving last year, I woke up, made coffee, and routinely opened my subscription of the California Today section of the New York Times. The title of the first featured article was “In a California Valley, Healthy Food Everywhere but on the Table” written by Thomas Fuller. As someone who is passionate about food and nutrition education (and as someone preparing to cook for her family the next day), I was immediately invested. While reading the article, I learned about the malnutrition crisis among the farmworkers and their families in the Salinas Valley. The statistics were mind-blowing: one in two people within the valley will develop diabetes and 85% of the farmworkers suffer from malnutrition. The irony? The Salinas Valley is often referred to as the salad bowl of the nation since it is responsible for providing over half of America’s lettuce among other vegetables such as broccoli, celery, cauliflower, and many more. Being familiar with non-profits such as Alice Waters’ The Edible Schoolyard and City Harvest, I wanted to understand what, if any, programs were helping this crisis within the Monterey Valley, and that is when I connected with Feeding America.

Feeding America is the largest food-rescuer and domestic hunger-relief organization in the country, rescuing 2.8 billion pounds of food and providing it to people in need. With Feeding America’s local partnerships with farmers, grocery retailers, food manufacturers, foodservice operators, and others across the country, they have an unparalleled access to food that may otherwise go to waste. As a California native, I was shocked to learn that 21% of fresh water is used to produce food that is then discarded. Another shocking statistic I learned is 72 billion pounds of food are lost each year, not including waste at home. In our country, 42 million people do not have enough to eat. According to the US Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency, feeding hungry stomachs is the highest-value use of excess food, before feeding animals, or repurposing as fuel conversion, or composting.

The best way we can all do our part is by educating ourselves and our communities. “Act locally, think globally” is something many of us have been told at some point in our lives, and acting locally is the best way we can all to do our part in food rescue. You can identify your local food bank and reach out to learn about food rescuing opportunities in your neighborhood. Or you can reach out to companies that are participating in the food rescue. I would even suggest reaching out and encouraging your local restaurants and grocery stores to join the food waste fight with Feeding America.

As we work together to repurpose food to those who are hungry, let us not forget we have a continued responsibility to educate. We can provide food for people facing hunger, but a full stomach can still lead to diseases and malnourishment. My dream would be for our education system to educate our children in how they can prevent diseases, especially in communities where diabetes has become an epidemic as it has in Salinas Valley. This is where I divert and begin to dream, or think, globally. But no matter where you are, there is something locally that you are able to do whether it is volunteering at a Food Bank or handing out meals for those who are hungry within your community. This Earth Day, I encourage you to do your part locally, and perhaps begin to build goals globally.