Farmers put their livelihoods on the line with each crop they plant, tend to and harvest. Now imagine 40% of that crop going into the trash instead of feeding hungry people(1). That’s the unfortunate situation we’re in with food waste in the U.S. But there’s a push from multiple sectors including agriculture, government, consumers, restaurants and retail to get the most out of every ounce of nutritious food American farmers grow. In this episode, we explore the issue of food waste, how different sectors are combating it and how peanuts are part of the solution on the farm and the plate through conversations with Valeri Lea of Sherman Moritz, Daniel Kurzrock of Upcycled Foods, Joanne Gendrano of Unilever Food Solutions and Alabama peanut farmer Thomas Adams.
According to Valeri Lea, who is a food service consultant for NPB, “72% of consumers say that they're concerned about the issue of food waste and its effect on the environment(2). So, food waste is kind of seen as part of sustainability and even part of social responsibility.”
In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 66.2 million tons of wasted food were generated in the food retail, food service and residential sectors(3). This has led to the creation of organizations to help reduce food waste in lots of different ways.
“There's a social enterprise founded by Enactus, which is all about teaching young kids and students at colleges and universities about how to be entrepreneurs,” Valeri said. “And there's a chapter at Durham University that founded the ugly fruit group in 2019. And they enlist three different pillars. They talk about reusing, donating and educating to further their philosophy to not just fight hunger, but to reduce food waste, and they've accomplished a tremendous amount in the short period of time that they've been in practice. So, in the past four years, they've saved over 6700 meals worth of fruit and veggies. They've prevented 580,000 plus liters of wasted water and things like that.”
As Valeri mentioned, there are a lot of organizations that have been formed to reduce food waste. One of these organizations is Upcycled Food Inc. Upcycled Foods looks at ways they can help other companies reduce their food waste or give byproducts a second chance. According to their CEO and co-founder Dan Kurzrock, upcycling is all about putting food to its highest and best use.
Lauren gave Dan a crash course in a few of the ways that the peanut plant and peanut byproducts are used and suggested the example of utilizing peanut skins differently. Based on that, Dan encourages industries like ours to think outside the box and go beyond what’s normal.
“I think it's also a good example showing how, you know, what we're talking about is like fundamentally, like the status quo here,” Dan said. “With the peanut industry, it sounds like it's not a terribly problematic thing in terms of materials going to landfill destination. What I challenge you on is that it doesn't mean that everything is going to its highest and best use necessarily.”
Next, we spoke with Chef Joanne Gendrano, who works for Unilever Food Solutions for Arabia and some parts of the Pacific islands. Joanne was involved in the Unilever Food Solutions’ recently published Future Menus 2023 Report, which named Low-Waste Menus as one of the top global menu trends.
According to ReFed, the restaurant industry alone generates about 11.4 million tons of food waste annually at a cost of about $25 billion per year4. This among other things has led to a misconception that chefs don’t care about food waste, which could not be further from the truth.
“Spoilage, equipment maintenance and storage play a very, very crucial role,” Joanne said. “We see a lot of people who would want to open restaurants. They tend to scrimp on, you know, investing in good equipment. And we have to remember when it comes to ingredients, we need to treat them as investments. So, we need to store them properly, make sure that they are in the proper temperature, and they have enough space to breathe as well. We need to also hire the right person in terms of managing stocks. So, basically, our objective is we need to create a venue or a space where ingredients can last longer so that, essentially, that would lead to lowering food waste.”
Finally, we spoke with Thomas Adams, who is an Alabama peanut farmer and an alternate Board member on the National Peanut Board. Thomas says that reducing waste at the farm level isn’t a new initiative that came along as consumers got more concerned with food waste. This is something that has always been an integral part of his operation.
“Food waste on the farm level, we can't control a lot at the end of the line where it gets to the consumer,” Thomas said. “But it is an issue that that concerns us on the farm because we don't want anything wasted. And I can say as a peanut farmer I'm proud to say that there's very little waste in peanuts especially at the farm level and I wish that all other commodities were the same and everybody is striving to do away with food waste because when it takes resources whether that be money, water or other input costs to grow a crop and then it's wasted it's just it's not good. It's not a good return on investment and frankly, it's probably not good for the environment a waste.”
Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, we can close the gap between food production and food waste and ensure that the food that farmers across the U.S. and around the world nurture and labor to grow is put to good use.
Listen to the full episode here.
- Feeding America – Food Waste and Food Rescue: https://www.feedingamerica.org/our-work/reduce-food-waste
- Datassential – 2022 Trends Part I | 01.06.22: https://datassential.com/resource/webinar-2022-trends-part-1/
- EPA – 2019 Wasted Food Report: https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2023-03/2019%20Wasted%20Food%20Report_508_opt_ec.pdf
- 7 Food Waste Statistics Every Chef Should Know: https://blog.cambro.com/2019/11/01/7-food-waste-statistics-every-chef-should-know/