The Public's Health: Food Justice | Public Health Post

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One in six of our citizens experiences food insecurity. Forty-two million low income and working-class Americans—most of whom are elderly, disabled, or children—use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to buy groceries. That is, they don’t earn enough to feed themselves consistently. Food insecurity has dramatic effects on the health of children and the elderly in particular, influencing educational progress, family stress, and nutritional deficiencies. 

At the same time we throw away 40% of our food every day. That’s 400 pounds per person per year.

The food we buy and bring home is the largest source of food waste; 70% of all food discarded in our homes is edible. Restaurants are second in waste generation. Grocery stores, third in line, are a major source of usable, donatable goods like fruits, vegetables, meat, and other nutritious foods. A fifth of agricultural water use and 18% of farm fertilizer is spent on food that is lost. Wasted food generates pollution equivalent to 37 million cars (2.6% of greenhouse emissions) through methane released from our landfills. We waste 50% more food than we did fifty years ago. When food is wasted, so are other resources.

If we could recover and redistribute one third of the food we waste, we could end food insecurity. Other countries are moving to limit food waste. In France, a 2016 law banned grocery stores from throwing away edible food. Giving food to churches or food banks is no longer an act of good will; stores are fined for not donating. Italy incentivized waste reduction. Stores would no longer be sanctioned for giving away food past its sell-by date; the government is funding active research on packing food to prevent spoilage and extend shelf life.
And there is hope afoot that we are moving in the right direction domestically. The 2018 Farm Bill just passed the House and Senate and awaits Presidential signature. This legislation supports food waste reduction plans in ten states, creates a new Food Loss and Waste Liaison position within the USDA, and following the European example, promotes the expansion of liability protections for food donations. In the private sector, there has been a rush of money into food waste reduction start-ups.
Responsible for the largest percentage of waste, consumers need to adjust behaviors. provides simple advice on limiting household losses. Attention to food waste offers economic, environmental, and public health opportunities: jobs, climate change deceleration, hunger relief. Wasting food is a luxury. Could the end of food insecurity be in sight?

Michael Stein & Sandro Galea