Holidays are a time to see family, veg out, watch football, and most of all, to eat until we’re stuffed…then eat more once the food coma wears off.
For those of us who are fortunate, the holiday menu often reads like nothing short of a feast:
- 20 lb turkey? Check.
- Candied yams? Check.
- Roasted brussel sprouts? C’mon, of course!
- Mashed potatoes? As sure as Magnum PI has a mustache.
- Two kinds of stuffing? Check.
- Apple pie? This is America after all.
This over-abundance of food is so ingrained in holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. And most of the time we can’t finish it all. We whine about the “leftover problem.”
“Damn, there’s no room for anything else in this fridge—what a pain.”
We do our best to pawn off leftovers on visiting family members, make turkey sandwiches, reheat mashed potatoes with eggs for breakfast…
…And after all that, we still end up throwing a ton of food away, often without thinking.
How bad is the problem?
- 40% of the food produced in the US is wasted
- Food is actually the number 1 material sent to landfills
- Experts estimate that this wasted food could feed 25 million people
It’s even more disturbing when you consider that about 49 million Americans struggle to put food on the table.
What You Can Do to About Food Waste and Hunger
As I’ve mentioned before, one aspect of being a gentleman is the ability to take action for a greater cause—to help your fellow man and your community.
So how can you, as one man, take action to make a difference? Read on:
1. Limit Your Own Personal Food Waste
Obviously, the first step is to become more aware of your own food waste. While some things are out of your control—a lot of food waste happens as part of the food supply chain even before it reaches the store—you can make a difference in your household consumption:
- Plan for more realistic meal sizes during the holidays. You can still have a fabulous meal with the family, but consider reducing the scale of your feast so you’re not throwing away food when the festivities are done.
- Have a plan for any leftover items: send your family home with leftovers and make sure they finish them instead of throw them away. Share leftovers with other families you know who might be less fortunate.
- Most local soup kitchens will accept extra packaged items like canned goods, dairy products, or even cooking oil (call your local soup kitchen or rescue to confirm). So, if you bought too many groceries for your holiday feast, those items don’t need to go to waste.
- If you’ve had your meal catered (whether at home or for a company holiday party) many organizations will accept commercially prepared perishable leftovers. Some caterers actually have relationships with soup kitchens. You can even use that as criteria for picking a caterer.
Outside of the holidays, be more aware of the small waste that goes on throughout the week.
- One of the most common ways we waste food every day is by throwing away fruits or vegetables that are irregularly shaped. They are usually perfectly good to eat but they just look different. (One local company here in the Bay Area has even built a business around fighting this very problem.)
- Also, we often throw out items just because they’re reaching the manufacturer expiration. As this Time article notes, food expiration labels aren’t necessarily about when a food is safe to eat. They were introduced in the 70’s to indicate when food was at its peak freshness. I can’t give you advice how to handle your food, but I will often eat items that are a few days beyond the expiration—especially non-perishable packaged food—when I know it has been stored or refrigerated properly, and there are no odd smells or tastes. One thing that can extend the freshness of your perishable items is making sure your refrigerator at or below 40 degrees. For more helpful tips on storing food safely, follow these helpful tips from the FDA.
2. Help Your Local Food Bank or Shelter
Sometimes it’s easy to forget how much of an impact you can make as one person. But if you get involved with helping a local organization that feeds hungry people in your community, you will see the results first-hand. With a simple contribution of money or food, you can literally improve someone’s day by giving them a meal they would not have had otherwise. These local organizations absolutely depend on one-off, individual donations from people just like you. There are a few ways to help:
- Donate money—Even when they receive food donations, these organizations always need help for operating costs.
- Give food—You should check your local chapters, but most organizations will accept new or pre-packaged/canned foods.
- Volunteer your time—Most of these places depend in volunteer staff to keep things running
It may seem daunting if you’ve never gotten involved, but all you have to do is start with one organization. Here are resources online that can help you quickly get started:
Feeding America (US Food Bank Finder)
Homeless Shelter Directory
Or Google “soup kitchen,” “food bank,” or “homeless shelter” + [your city]
How to go bigger: Once you’ve seen how much you can help with just your individual contribution, you may be motivated to raise the bar. Organizing your own food drive at work or among your neighbors is extremely easy to do—and it can be a great way to make some new friends while rallying around the holiday spirit. This brief page from the United Way provide some tips and ideas for how to organize your own food drive.
3. Support Food Rescue
Beyond supporting the usual organizations like food banks and soup kitchens, there is another way you can help: supporting food rescue.
Food rescue or food recovery is all about gathering perishable food that would otherwise be thrown out and redistributing it to those in need.
One of the real paradoxes surrounding the food shortage issue is there’s not really a shortage at all: Food is plentiful in the US…but much of it gets wasted before it can reach those who need it most. The root cause is the lack of an efficient system for redistributing food.
And as an individual it’s hard to feel like you can really help. For instance, it’s not efficient—and not generally sanctioned the health department—to donate one leftover piece of pizza or a stray cup of chili that you didn’t finish for dinner.
Organizations like Rescuing Leftover Cuisine (RLC) are trying to fix this efficiency. This regional non-profit has established relationships with different restaurants and companies throughout New York City. Through their network, they collect food that would normally be thrown away and deliver it to different shelters and soup kitchens. Typically, the food they collect is perfectly edible, but just may not saleable. Other times, restaurants may have simply ordered too much of a specific item, and won’t be using on their menu that week.
Meanwhile, here in the San Francisco Bay Area another organization called Feeding Forward is doing similar work to match food donations from restaurants to organizations that need assistance. They also use a proprietary app that makes donating—and tracking how the donation is used—even easier. A special algorithm pairs the food donations with available drivers and recipient organizations.
You can support food rescue with a donation or by volunteering your time:
Rescuing Leftover Cuisine
Or Google “food rescue” + [your area]
Conclusion: You Can Make a Visible Impact…Even as One Person
In the process of researching this topic, what struck me is how easy it is to make a real impact. No matter how you choose get involved—whether it’s by just limiting your excessive food waste, sending a few dollars to a local shelter, giving up half your Saturday to work at a soup kitchen, or helping a food rescue organization—you are making an immediate and measurable impact.
The more closely you get involved, the more you will see the first-hand results. As much as we talk about the overall statistics of food waste and hunger, this is about individuals.
As this story from Monica Hunasikatti of Rescuing Leftover Cuisine illustrates, one donation really can make a difference:
About a year ago, there was a line of hungry people outside of the NYC Rescue Mission. The last few people were about to be turned away because the mission had run out of food for the evening. Luckily, RLC had a group of volunteers come in to drop off hot spaghetti and meatballs. Because of being able to network with different restaurants in the city, there were people that ate happily that night.
How can you make a difference?
Hopefully after reading this, you’ll think twice about the scale of your holiday feast, and maybe bring it back down to a more realistic scale. But don’t just stop there. I encourage you to find a local organization or click on one of the links above to make just one small donation—whether it’s just a few cans of spare food, a small gift of $20, or volunteering a few hours of your time.
If you help out, leave a note in the comments and share how you’ve decided to pitch in, or just say “I did my part.” You’ll be glad you did.