Get Woke to Food Waste


By Susan Messer

I was at the Oak Park farmers’ market, buying corn, when I saw one of the workers pick up an ear from the pile and throw it onto the back of his truck. Because I’d been learning about food waste for this article, I asked him why he’d chosen that ear to toss. And he said, “Someone pulled back the husk too far, and people won’t buy it when it looks like that.” Yikes. Then I came home, and for lunch, I ate the bits of this and that left over in our refrigerator, even though what I really wanted was one of the peaches (last of the season) or apples I’d bought at the market. I wish I’d eaten the fruit, but I’m also glad to have done some cleanup in my refrigerator.

It’s hard to digest the startling facts of food waste:

  • Up to 40 percent of all food in the United States is wasted, while 40 million Americans lack consistent access to adequate and nutritious food.

  • Producing food swallows up roughly 20 percent of America’s cropland, fertilizers, and agricultural water.

  • More food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other material in our everyday trash, constituting 22 percent of discarded municipal solid waste.

  • Production, distribution, and demise of food in landfills generates significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately for us, and for our earth, multiple minds are now focused on the problem of food waste. On the international level, the United Nations has set a goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030. On the national and state levels, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are calling for greater collaboration “to educate and engage consumers and stakeholders throughout the supply chain on the need to reduce food loss and waste.”

And at the most local of local levels, help is on the way via the Interfaith Green Network and Green Community Connections/One Earth Film Festival.

How so?

First, at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, these two groups have arranged for a screening and discussion of the filmJust Eat It: A Food Waste Story. This award-winning, compelling documentary tells the story of two people who, after learning about the billions of dollars of good food tossed each year in North America, pledged to quit grocery shopping and survive only on food that would otherwise be thrown away.

The film will help you understand the effects of food waste and the strategies for making the most of the food in your own kitchen. All ages are welcome, and admission is free, but please register at Location: Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake St., 2nd Floor Veterans Room.



Second, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, also at the Oak Park Public Library, the Interfaith Green Network and Green Community Connections will sponsor Oak Park’s second Food Waste Workshop, where an impressive panel of professionals will share their knowledge about reducing food waste.

“November is a great time for these two events,” says Judy Klem, member of the Interfaith Green Network, “because we’re rolling into the holidays. No better time to remind people that when they’re shopping for food, planning menus and parties, they can be more mindful. We all need to think through what we’re buying and how we can get the most out of whatever we’re purchasing so we don’t have to compost it or throw it away. And at the workshop, we’ll have all these people in one room, a wonderful knowledge base, teaching us how we can change our food practices.”

The panel will be comprised of:

Julie Schilf, a scientist from the EPA, whose job is to provide technical assistance to states, businesses, and organizations on quantifying waste and improving recycling.

Alison Jordan, from Rush Oak Park Hospital, who is a founding partner of the Food Surplus Project, which packages and delivers leftover cafeteria food to the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry, now known as Beyond Hunger.

Stephanie Katsaros, founder and president of Bright Beat, a consulting firm that creates sustainability strategies for large events and venues, such as Allstate Arena.

John Lardner of the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition, a non-profit organization that promotes diversion and composting of organics in Illinois, including by encouraging people to patronize businesses that manage their food scraps responsibly.

Following the panel discussion, attendees can visit action tables to learn from such community partners as Sugar Beet, the Village of Oak Park, and Trader Joe’s about what they’re doing and what we all can do to reduce waste.

The workshop is free, but please register below.