“Waste Not, Want Not” Addresses Food Waste Problem in U.S.

Boston Conference session summary written for the LDEI Quarterly
By Cynthia Schuster Eakin

Food, a most valuable commodity, is being wasted at an incredible rate in this country, while a good portion of our nation’s populace goes hungry.

“Waste Not, Want Not,” an informative session at the LDEI International conference held in Boston, addressed the problems of food waste and food insecurity in the U.S.  Speakers at the session included Ashley Stanley, founder and executive director of Lovin’ Spoonfuls Food Rescue, and Dame Edith Murnane, director of food initiatives for the City of Boston. Emily Broad Leib, deputy director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School, addressed some of the legal issues that contribute to food waste and distribution.

“Food is a right and not a privilege,” Ashley Stanley said. “Hunger is a problem of local distribution. A third of the world’s food supply is being tossed. Yet, there are 49 million hungry Americans. We could fill the Rose Bowl with fresh food every day and set it on fire and that is the amount of food being wasted nationwide.” Stanley went on to say that discarded food is the largest source of solid waste in our landfills. Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a non-profit funded by organizations and private donations, works with farmers markets, produce wholesalers and bakeries to rescue outdated food and distribute it to hunger agencies.

Emily Broad Leib helps provide law students with an opportunity to work with policy makers and food advocates, using the law to improve the food system. She noted that confusion over food expiration dates is a leading cause of waste. There are no federal standards for expiration dates, except for infant formula. Leib said not a single outbreak of foodbourne illness has been linked to an expiration date. Yet, 90 percent of consumers throw outdated food away. Her students are working to establish a uniform food dating system.

Edith Murnane said the City of Boston is promoting urban agriculture by growing food in vacant lots, on rooftops and other unused places and by launching a composting program in the city. Putting healthier, better-tasting food in schools would reduce food waste, she said. Murnane noted that about 60 percent of the 55,000 students in Boston public schools receive free or reduced-cost food. Plate waste studies indicate that, if tastier, chef-inspired dishes are created, students will eat the food and not throw it away.