FRESH: Reducing Food Waste; Final Project

I love food. It has the power to sustain, to heal, to comfort, and to unite.  But food is among one of the many resources provided by Mother Nature that we disrespect and abuse.  Bending nature to our will is the skill that has allowed humans to thrive, but with great power comes great responsibility.  We have yet to live up to that responsibility.

Through some very aggressive, and often dangerous agricultural practices, we have been able to produce an extreme excess of food. In fact, we make enough food every year to feed double the earth’s population. Pretty impressive, right? Sadly, of the food we make, a third is disposed of in the production process and half is thrown out at a consumer level. That means that every year we send enough food to feed a second Earth to landfills. And less than a percent of that makes it back into the farm soil to replenish what we’ve taken.

The toll of food waste

 It’s in everyone’s best interest to conserve food. Wasted food costs the average family of four 455 dollars a year in the U.S. The United Nations estimates that the financial loss of wasted food is 400 billion dollars annually. If we waste just 15% less, we could feed 25 million more people. But how and why does food waste happen in the first place?

The first cause of food waste is that food is tossed for aesthetic reasons.  Dented packages, slight discolorations, and irregular shapes are some of the reasons food may be deemed unsuitable for the shelves.  The second cause, and perhaps the most aggravating, is expiration date labeling.  “Sell by” and “Best by” are terms that store managers and consumers use to distinguish the safety and freshness of food.  But these terms are not federally regulated, and are meant to be the most conservative date for best quality.   If a fresh shipment of food is coming in, the store will likely toss food well before the printed dates, meaning food that is perfectly edible is thrown away.  Bakeries make their stock daily, so any remaining food is tossed.  Prepared food distributors follow the same practices.  The reasons stores throw out food are the same reasons consumers throw out food.  They see a blemish, notice the date has passed, or simply don’t have room any longer to store the excess of food they buy.

This is one of the few issues that can be significantly impacted by moderate consumer practice changes.  The 50% of food that is wasted on a household level can be reduced with little effort, and we can begin to pull back the curtain on the mysteries surrounding food safety, spoilage, and production.

I set out to make an internet video series that empowers eaters of the world to conserve, recycle, and repurpose food.  The series shows viewers how to correctly identify food for safe consumption, as well as how to make use of food scraps in ways that keep them from being tossed in a landfill.

Many of the videos I hope to make will deal with food safety and storage, using information I have gathered through research as well as through my local community of farmers in my hometown of Norwich, Vermont.

The complete list of Episodes I hope to make to finish “Season 1” of the series are titled as follows:

  • WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT FOOD WASTE?
  • EXPIRATION DATES: WHAT DO THEY REALLY MEAN?
  • THE EGG TEST
  • USES FOR FOOD SCRAPS
  • MAKING YOUR OWN STOCK/BROTH
  • FRESH OR PRESERVED?
  • HOME COMPOSTING
  • FREEGANISM: A LOVE STORY

I hope to expand with short documentary style videos at farms and grocery stores.  The intent would be to dive into the topics many feature documentaries touch on but with specificity.  What does the public’s newfound knowledge about GMO’s and preservatives and waste translate to in practice?  How can it inform your everyday (3-times daily) choices?

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMIK5HNm1SZEVTT5erwytkw/videos
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMIK5HNm1SZEVTT5erwytkw/videos

So far the videos have been sent to friends at various universities around the U.S.  I asked them to show them to fellow friends and family and ask whether or not the individuals were aware of the extent of food waste prior to viewing this project.  Of the 21 people who watched and reviewed the videos, 19 had never heard about food waste being a significant environmental issue.  Their critiques often referred to the lack of more precise demonstrations and 8 of the 21 viewers mentioned that the videos could be longer to include a fuller explanation of the topic.

There is a rule of thumb for bloggers: only go public after you have 100 posts.  This is true for specific types of blogs, but the idea behind the rule is very valid in my mind.  You can’t start a promotion campaign with sustained momentum without enough content for the viewer to thoroughly engaged.  This is why I’d like to have at least 5 polished videos before making the YouTube page public.  I plan to continue to collect feedback on the current videos and use them as pitch material for platforms such as lifehacker.com.

My objective with this project is to empower people.  We are so detached from where our life-sustain resources come from.  This detachment influence our choices in so many aspects of our lives.  But to me, food is the most personal of the environmental issues.  Those who don’t consider themselves environmentalists or even outdoorsy still need to eat.  And no one wants to unnecessarily spend money or fall ill.  I will feel that this project is successful when I have seen it affect the lives of the environmentally conscious and unconscious alike.  The more we all know about the context of our daily choices, the more informed those choices will be, and perhaps they can change for the better.  It may be a tall order for a YouTube channel about food scraps, but perhaps the way to the heart of any issue is through the stomach.