The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday launched the Food Steward’s Pledge, an initiative to engage religious groups of all faiths to help redirect the food that ends up in landfills to hungry mouths. It’s one piece of the agency’s larger plan to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030.
“We can make leaps and bounds in this process if we tackle this problem more systemically and bring a broader number of stakeholders to the table,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy tells us. By engaging religious communities, she says, “we are tapping into incredibly motivated and dedicated people.”
Food waste connects to the core values of many faith communities, particularly helping the poor and feeding the hungry, McCarthy notes.
As we’ve reported, more than 1,200 calories per American per day are wasted, according to U.S. government figures. Loss occurs on the farm, at the retail level and in homes. We consumers often toss out foods because they’ve passed their sell-by date — but are still just fine to eat — or because we buy more than we can eat before it goes bad.
As McCarthy notes, a lot of that is discarded but still edible and wholesome and could be used to feed some of the 48 million American who struggle to get enough to eat.
At the consumer level, changing behavior is key, says EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus, and faith-based groups can help make that happen in a variety of ways. For instance, when these organizations hold potlucks, the leftovers can go to the local food bank.
EPA says groups can also work with local grocers, schools and restaurants to direct food to food banks and shelters that would otherwise be wasted. They can hold seminars for the faithful and the broader local community to teach them how to menu plan and shop their own refrigerators first to avoid buying excess food, and how to compost the leftover scraps. EPA has developed a toolkit with lots more suggestions for groups that sign its “Food Steward’s Pledge.”
“Getting out the message — particular what individual families can do … local community leaders are critical in doing that,” Stanislaus tells us. And because faith-based leaders are often trusted advisers in their communities, “we thought they were a natural ally.”
Food waste is closely tied to another growing concern for many faith-based organizations: climate change, a problem that disproportionately affects the world’s poor. Food waste is the single biggest material in U.S. landfills, according to the U.S. Agricultural Department. As this waste decomposes, it releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.