You know that stalk of celery that’s gone limp in your crisper? The lettuce or beets or meat you kept meaning to eat? Now imagine all the limp celery in all the fridges across the country. About one-third of the world’s food is lost or wasted before it can be consumed, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That’s not just food going to waste. The land, labor, water and energy used to grow, transport and prepare that food is wasted, too. As the National Resources Defense Council puts it: “Wasting food wastes everything.”
But lost resources are only one part of the big picture. “Food waste is the single largest component going into municipal landfills,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). When it winds up in landfills, food waste quickly generates methane, which helps to make landfills the third-largest source of this greenhouse gas in the United States.
To address everything from lost resources to greenhouse gases, the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have called for a 50% reduction in U.S. food waste by the year 2030. These agencies are calling on entities across the food chain—from restaurants and retailers to city governments and school cafeterias—to help meet this goal. They’ve also created a variety of resources, including the Food Recovery Hierarchy, which illustrates actions we can all take to prevent and divert food waste. Feeding hungry people falls near the top of this new-fangled food pyramid, and landfill is the option of last resort.
At Whole Foods Market, these are priorities we whole-heartedly support. It’s long been our tradition to donate unsold food to local soup kitchens and food banks. And, thanks to a collaboration with Food Donation Connection, those donations are increasing significantly and food waste is shrinking. Food Donation Connection specializes in donations of prepared foods, which have often posed a challenge for restaurants and retailers. With their help, many Whole Foods Market stores have developed a process for packaging, refrigerating and donating a wider range of foods—including food from the salad bar and hot bar.
For example, 36 Whole Foods Market stores in the Southeast U.S. donated more than 1,400,000 pounds of food to Food Donation Connection in just the first half of 2016. More stores in Florida and the Eastern Seaboard are following suit. You can see some of those donations in action at Atlanta’s Lutheran Church of the Redeemer food ministry. Facilities and Hospitality Coordinator Maria Welsh and her team of volunteers serve 500 – 600 meals every weekday.
Maria’s mornings begin at the Whole Foods Market store in the Briarcliff neighborhood of Atlanta, where she picks up unused dairy, prepared foods, produce and more. “Every day it’s different,” she says. “I’m creative, and I am blessed with the ability to make food out of whatever I have.” Maria’s creativity shines in the hearty, nourishing stew that she makes in her 50-gallon pot, but she’s eager to point out that the meals she serves are much more than stew. “Say at Whole Foods I get a bunch of salad or fruit, then they’ll have a salad or a fruit salad, and a sandwich, and the stew that I made, all on one plate.”
Through our work with community partners like Maria and Food Donation Connection, Whole Foods Market is working to make sure more of our unused food ends up on the plates of hungry people instead of in compost or landfill. It’s a collaboration that speaks to two of our core values at once: supporting local communities and environmental stewardship. That’s a win-win.