Each year in the United States, 160 billion pounds of food go unconsumed, roughly 35% of our food supply. If all this food was grown in one place, the farm would cover three quarters of California. This waste occurs throughout the food system supply chain, from farm to refrigerator, and is responsible for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
That’s what prompted a team from the Environmental Defense Fund to partner with ReFED, a national non-profit organization that fights food waste in the United States. Together, the two groups created the first-ever Food Waste Fellowships, a summer fellowship program that connects masters-level graduates. with leading food companies to help them reduce and rethink food waste.
“America can’t fight climate change without tackling food waste, and these fellowships help us do that while training new leaders in the fight,” says Scott Wood, who directs the Climate Corps program at ‘EDF, which has already trained nearly 1,500 graduate students to power the environment. progress in more than 600 companies and organizations.
The Food Waste Fellowships launched with 11 inaugural fellows this summer. Meet three of them who have worked with ConAgra Brands, Amy’s Kitchen and United Natural Foods Inc..
“My Carrot Summer”
It was 4 a.m. and Madeline Bowers was helping clean up after a wedding. The fragile floral centerpieces that she had spent more than 20 hours meticulously arranging were now tossed unceremoniously in the trash.
That’s when Bowers really started to see waste differently. “It just seemed so obviously silly to me,” Bowers recalled. “A few hours earlier, we were treating these flowers like works of art and now we were ready to pay someone to transport them to a landfill. How could anything become less than worthless literally overnight? »
This question of what we choose to enjoy, when and why led Bowers from working as a florist to working with the Peace Corps on a food security project in Nepal. Today, she is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental management with a focus on business strategy at Duke.
This summer, Bowers examines how food waste is managed at one of ConAgra Brands’ Birds Eye frozen vegetable processing plants in Wisconsin. Its mission is to create a business case for recycling the piles of vegetable peels and trimmings left over at the end of each day into a salable product like dehydrated carrot fiber that can be used in salad dressings and soups.
“Part of my scholarship has been figuring out how many pounds of leftover carrots we have to come out of the plant each day and putting a value on all that food,” says Bowers, who affectionately refers to his scholarship as “my summer of carrots”. .”
“I want to challenge the way decision makers think about by-products and leftovers,” she says. “There’s real value there, even if it’s not what you’re selling at the grocery store.”
A weight problem
Born and raised in Ecuador, Santiago Toral grew up surrounded by a vibrant food industry.
“I’ve always been struck by Ecuador’s huge potential,” says Toral. “We are a major exporter of coffee, cocoa, tropical fruits and vegetables, but as we export raw food for processing elsewhere, we don’t get the full value of what we grow.
Currently an MBA student at Colorado State University, Toral dreams of one day revolutionizing the cocoa and coffee industry in Ecuador by helping to launch local low-waste coffee and chocolate processing plants.
He hopes his experiences as a food waste specialist at Amy’s Kitchen in California this summer will help him realize that dream.
At Amy’s Kitchen, which manufactures organic, vegetarian and vegan frozen meals and canned foods, Toral conducts a comprehensive audit of all sources of food waste at the Santa Rosa manufacturing facility. This could mean working with the sanitation team to weigh what falls on the factory floor each day, or analyzing where food is wasted during cooking and assembly and devising a plan to reduce that waste.
“More and more people are realizing that food waste is a climate issue,” says Toral. “And when consumers care, businesses listen.”
The cost of food waste
Fredrick Selby was a preteen when he moved with his family from Sweden to the United States. The culture shock was intense.
“My Swedish grandmother could never bring herself to throw away the cheese wax or anything that could be reused,” Selby recalls. “But in the United States it was the polar opposite – throwing things away was a way of life.”
Selby continued to pay attention to waste as he worked in the restaurant industry on and off for 20 years. Thanks to Selby, the oyster bar he ran in New York became one of the first restaurants to partner with the Billion Oyster Project by donating thousands of oyster shells each week to help restore coral reefs. oysters and improve water quality in New York Harbor.
This summer, Selby is a member of United Natural Foods Inc., a leading North American grocery wholesaler that delivers to more than 30,000 locations. At UNFI, Selby collects data on food waste across the company’s 56 fulfillment centers. Its aim is to create a real-time digital snapshot of where waste is generated and ends up and the associated costs, to help UNFI track and accelerate its progress towards its goal of sending zero food waste to the landfills by 2030.
“Ironically, what excites me most about this work is the scale of the problem,” says Selby, who will begin the second year of his MBA in sustainability at Bard College this fall. “We’re not talking about pounds of food or 10 boxes of cereal. It’s literally tons of food. And to me, that’s not intimidating, it’s exciting because it means the impact of a good deed will be just as huge.
Find out more about EDF’s Climate Corps program
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