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COVID-19, Food Waste & What We Can Do About It Right Now

While the emergence of COVID-19 has introduced a new host of concerns for our global society, its presence also impacts preexisting ones. The issue of food waste has only grown in size because of the outbreak, creating conditions that limit the business of food supply and production.

What has COVID-19 done to Food Businesses?

Agricultural workers are stuck with an excess of goods that would have normally gone to companies occupying the food services industry. However, as social distancing and quarantine orders warrant the continued closure of these businesses, or scaling back of the services they provide, farmers are left holding the bag with no way of distributing inventory to the public at large. This creates an environment for farmers where the only option is to destroy their produce or give it away. Although the latter option is a noble one, it’s still not a grand enough approach to keep food waste from occurring.

Yet, as the demand from businesses have plummeted, the demand from food banks and other food-based charities have risen. Still, there is a price associated with funneling items to these organizations, such as the costs to bag and ship their products. Food manufacturers are facing a two-fold hardship that is unfortunately adding to the problem of food waste.

Addressing the Food Waste Issue

What they need to address these issues are a robust network of buyers/consumers and a distribution plan fit for the times. Luckily, the USDA will be stepping in to mitigate any further loss by both purchasing and distributing up to $3 billion dollars’ worth of agricultural products to those in need. The Farmers to Families Food Box program is great step forward in aiding both food suppliers and our community. Goods that end up in the hands (and mouths) of hungry people, instead of going bad in a warehouse serves as a head on attack against food waste!

Since the pandemic has afforded a heightened awareness around the issue of food waste, it’s also created an opportunity to develop a new attitude towards food production and consumption. In the US alone, we waste about 30-40% of our food supply and the majority of the garbage we produce is from food. Based on this information, there’s enough reason to make room for adjustment across consumer profiles. While government regulations and societal approaches may take time to shift, big changes can still be made at the individual level for both personal and commercial impact.

How Consumers Can make a Change

Try cooking smaller portions and eating all of your leftovers before preparing something new. When you go shopping, make a list and stick to it. Strolling the aisles for what you need instead of what you want will lessen the chances of buying something that’ll only rot away in the back of your fridge! Shopping locally, and in season, helps reduce food waste as well.

Check labels and think about where you’re purchasing your goods from. Are there options at your grocery store to buy milk from local dairy farms? Is that batch of shiny red apples or oranges from a nearby fruit grower? Buying locally, and picking up foods that are in season, offsets food waste on the retail end. The length of time it takes to get their food from the farm and to your table is minimized, which in turn cuts down on the food going bad at their facilities. As a food creator, there’s so many ways to get creative with your plates and avoid food waste. In an interview about food waste with The World Wide Life organization, Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill Farm and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, shared a story towards the end about two entrepreneurial chefs who did just that.

Can you team up with a fellow cook savvy friend, colleague or relative to find thoughtful ways to repurpose your waste? This is why we are passionate about our mission here at Plates. Peer-to-peer food sharing has the power to address food waste by turning mealtime into an experience, a collaboration, a discovery. A journey that will always be embedded in community, social awareness and as always, great food.


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