Tuesday, December 23, 2014

World Hunger and Food Waste

I've debated for a long time to post this paper or not, but finally decided, these are such huge, global issues and I must. Consider this fair warning, the below post is a very lengthy research paper I completed for my World Food Issues class this past semester. The statistics can be overwhelming and upsetting. Personally, the paper isn't really a fun read. However, the topics may quickly capture your attention as they did mine. I hope you take the time to read the entire document and challenge yourself to become part of the solution in the coming year!

The juxtaposition of devastating hunger issues and extreme food waste in this world, and across America, even in Iowa, is astounding. Despite being quite opposite dilemmas, the alarming truth is neither are brand new issues, and without significant effort, neither are going away. With strategic planning, it may be possible to reduce the impact of both harsh realities with one method: food recovery.

Hunger, especially world hunger, is one of the hottest food related topics today even though it has been a part of human existence for generations. There are documented cases of hunger since the beginning of record keeping. Many government agencies and hunger fighting organizations have statistics tracking the problem dating back to the founding of their institution (United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 2013).

Many people simply don’t have enough, or they right type of food to sustain themselves in a healthy way. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), just over 11 percent of the current population doesn’t have enough food for a healthy and active life (FAO et al, 2014). The World Food Programme claims 805 million people on the planet are currently undernourished (World Food Programme, 2014). In other words, one out of every nine people on earth suffer from a lack sufficient nutrition or calories (World Food Programme, 2014). Meals from the Heartland claims hunger and malnutrition is the number one risk to health globally – greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined (Meals from the Heartland, 2014).

Hunger is a devastating problem not only because of the immediate pains it creates, but because it easily leads to other issues (World Food Programme, 2014). When people aren’t taking in the necessary amount of calories, or getting proper nutrients and vitamins they are more prone to disease (United Nations, 2014). Sick or undernourished women give birth to lighter babies with a more susceptible immune system (World Food Programme, 2014). According to the World Food Programme, over 2.3 million children under the age of five die as a result of malnutrition (World Food Programme, 2014). Ill and hungry children who survive, are less likely to attend school (World Food Programme, 2014). Even if they are able to go, studies show kids do not reach their performance potential when they are struggling with hunger (United Nations, 2014). The United Nations states the mental development of 40-60 percent of youth in developing countries is impaired due to iron deficiency (United Nations, 2014). Worldwide, iodine deficiency is the number one cause of brain damage and mental retardation (United Nations, 2014).

There is a common misconception that hunger only affects underdeveloped or third-world countries. This is untrue. Sadly enough, there are 15 million undernourished people in developed countries (World Food Programme, 2014). Feeding America, a network of food banks in the United States, claims one out of every six Americans struggles to have enough food (Feeding America, 2014). As of 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture reported 14.5 percent of households in America dealt with food insecurity for at least one member in the home over the course of the year (United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 2013). The research also showed 5.7 percent of food insecure American households had “very low food security”, meaning their troubles were severe (Coleman-Jensen et al, 2012). According to the USDA survey, households that were identified as having “very low food security” reported concerns they would run out of food before they had the funds to purchase more, they couldn’t buy balanced meals, and people in their household were cutting back or skipping meals due to their financial constraints (Coleman-Jensen et al, 2012).

Even within the United States, hunger creates many of the same issues that face the global population.  No Kid Hungry, an organization that works to bring awareness and alleviate child hunger in America, says 90 percent of K-8 teachers in public school agree eating a healthy breakfast is key to academic success (No Kid Hungry, 2014). The organization cites research form the National Institutes of Health, Jama Pediatrics, and Harvard School Breakfast Research Summary all concluding that students who regularly miss nutritious meals show statistically significant suffering in their health, cognition and academics, as well as emotional and social well-being (No Kid Hungry, 2014). An article published by Michigan State University cited supporting evidence that hunger is associated with lower academic achievements (Bell, 2013).

The facts are clear, when children aren’t distracted by hunger, they are more likely to reach their productivity potential. Students who consistently begin their day with a healthy breakfast achieve higher standardized math scores and have better attendance on average (No Kid Hungry, 2014). Michigan State also found evidence from the National School Lunch Program and the Children, Youth and Families Education and Research Network that concluded better or more nutrition resulted in student improvements in the areas of concentration, energy, comprehension, learning, and memory (Bell, 2013).

For the sake of later examples, Iowa hunger statistics are also available. Feeding America alone has four feeding programs that serve the communities of the region because one out of every eight people in the state struggle with hunger (Feeding America, 2014). One in six children in Iowa do not have enough to eat (Meals from the Heartland, 2014).  In 2012, the Des Moines Register reported that at least one time a year, one in five children doesn’t know where their next meal will come from (Krogstad, 2012). Iowa Food Bank Association says this totals nearly 390,000 hungry Iowans (Iowa Food Bank Association, 2014). The Iowa Hunger Directory maintained by the World Food Prize lists 362 organizations that are needed to fight hunger within the state (The World Food Prize, 2014). In 2012 it was reported that 57 school districts within the region had more than half of their students qualify for free or reduced-price meals (Krogstad, 2012). In the 2014 fiscal year, there was so much need that Food Bank of Iowa alone distributed over 10 million pounds of food (Food Bank of Iowa, 2014).

Even within Story County and the City of Ames, many citizens struggle with hunger. Story County has more hunger than the state average, with just over 15% of the population not getting enough nutritious food (Iowa State University, 2014). County wide, 20.9% of the people are below poverty level (United States Census Bureau, 2014). There are seventeen food pantries within the county (United Way of Story County, 2013). This includes SHOP, Students Helping Our Peers, a student-run, on-campus food pantry serving students that attend Iowa State University (Iowa State Univeristy, 2014). The United Way reports 29.8% of students in the Ames school district qualified for free and reduced lunch in 2013 (United Way of Story County, 2013). Kate Mitchell, and elementary school within the district serves over 50% of their students free or reduced meals (United Way of Story County, 2013). 

It’s no secret that world population is climbing, soon to reach an estimated 9.6 billion people by the year 2050 (United Nations, 2013). Unless action is taken, naturally the reality of hunger will escalate for more people in the world, even in the United States, including Iowans. Through my heavy involvement in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University, I’ve witnessed all across the agricultural industry individual experts and a variety of organizations are dedicated to finding a way to feed the growing number of humans. Organizations working to help families deal with hunger are seeing a rise in the use of their services (Iowa Food Bank Association, 2014).

Astoundingly enough, in a world where millions of humans go hungry, a sickening amount of food is wasted each day. Globally, according to the FAO, about 33% of the edible food supply for people is lost or wasted annually (Gustavsson, 2011, p. 4).  In America, 40% of edible food is thrown out (Food Recovery Certified, 2014). This sums to approximately 1.3 billion tons, or 26,000,000,000,000 pounds per year (Gustavsson, 2011, p. 4). Research has found this waste occurs throughout the entire food chain, anywhere from production to consumption (Gustavsson, 2011, p. 4). Food waste is the number one item filling up America’s landfills (Food Recovery Certified, 2014).

In Europe and North America the per capita food loss rings in at 280-300 kilograms per person, per year. This means, on average, for every American there is approximately 620-660 pounds of food loss annually (Gustavsson, 2011, p. 5). For the United States, over 40 percent of the food losses can be traced to the retail and consumer branch of the food system (Gustavsson, 2011, p. 5). The Natural Resources Defense Council claims that in America, retailers, food service, and households are some of the biggest culprits in food waste (Grunders, 2012, p.10-12). When looking specifically at meat, half of the waste occurs at the consumer level (Gustavsson, 2011, p. 8). Similarly, in industrialized areas like the United States the FAO found that up to 65 percent of milk waste was on the part of consumers (Gustavsson, 2011, p. 9).

The Iowa Waste Reduction Center confirms across our state, food waste is the most common landfilled material. According to the University of Northern Iowa, 13.3% of all landfilled waste in Iowa is food waste (Iowa Waste Reduction Center, 2014). Between 1998 and 2011 landfills in Iowa saw a rise in food waste disposal of 62% (Iowa Waste Reduction Center, 2014). 

In the Ames, Iowa community, research has recently been conducted regarding restaurant food waste. This semester, as part of a market research project for Management 370 and the Office of Sustainability, a team of other students and I attempted to survey all Ames food service establishments listed in the Yellow Pages of the phone book. Nearing 60 responses varying from fast food to fine dining establishments, an overwhelming majority had no alternative to throwing food waste in the garbage. In the Ames waste system, this material will be rejected by the Resource Recovery Center and will be shipped to a landfill in another county (City of Ames, 2014). Merry Rankin, Program Manager I for the Office of Sustainability and the City of Ames notes disposing of food waste in the landfill is not only economically costly, but taxing on the environment, especially when no positive bi-products are created ([pers. comm.], 2014). With the exception of fats, oils and greases that some businesses sell to be recycled, all types of food waste, pre-sale and post-sale, were thrown in the trash. Because there is no cost consequence for the companies to pitch a larger volume of garbage, managers we talked to were unable to estimate the quantity of food they threw out. The only alternatives a few businesses in our survey pursued were composting, practiced by two establishments, and a handful, including Chipotle, make a donation to a local organization called Food at First. 

In my research for Management 370, interviews for my personal blog, Roots, and a classroom presentation in Agronomy 342, I’ve had many opportunities to talk with individuals connected to Food at First. I’ve had the most contact with an avid volunteer, Andrea, and the director of the program, Chris Martin. Food at First, or FAF, has two components: a free, no questions asked meal served seven days a week and a perishable food pantry. All programs are no charge, open to anyone who may need assistance and wishes to take part. No questions are asked and everyone is able to remain anonymous if they wish. For this reason, it is difficult to collect quantitative data and the best way of learning about the need in the Ames area is talking to a regular volunteer ([pers. comm.], 2014).

In discussing the program with Andrea and Chris, I learned a lot about the innovative ways FAF is feeding the hungry in Ames and rescuing thousands of pounds of food from the landfill. Gleaning area produce farms and an abundance of regular donations serve as the source for most meals and the free market. According to the Food at First pick up schedule listed on their website, there is at minimum one food pick up at a retailer in the area such as Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, or Hy-Vee every day (Food At First, 2014). Some days, food that would be otherwise be wasted is coming from six business sources in addition to any independent or unscheduled donations ([pers. comm.], 2014).

Recently, it was announced that Food at First was a recipient of a $20,000 holiday makeover from Wal-Mart. According to an article in the Ames Tribune, FAF plans to purchase an additional freezer to accommodate the growing donations and need (Erickson, 2014). Over 2,300 people participated in an online voting poll supporting the Ames charity (Erickson, 2014).

Thankfully, FAF is not an entirely unique program. Other food recovery and hunger fighting organizations can be found across the country. Specifically, exemplary programs include Second Helpings, serving Indianapolis, Indiana, and Society of St. Andrew, which operates in several locations across the nation. Additionally, the Food Recovery Network is active on college campuses to make a difference. Food Gatherers and HUSH are other excellent programs making a difference to feed the hungry and keep food out of landfills.

Around the United States, just to date, in 2014 alone, Society of St. Andrew boasts it has gleaned 16.6 million pounds of food and collected an impressive total of 25.3 million pounds of produce (Society of St. Andrew, 2014). The organization has delivered 76 million servings of food to hungry Americans this year alone (Society of St. Andrew, 2014). Several departments within the program fulfill different needs. The Gleaning Network is comprised of volunteers who travel to farmer’s fields to salvage crops that would otherwise rot. The fruits and vegetables that are harvested may not have met the farmer’s top-grade standards for sale, but are still healthy and nutritious (Society of St. Andrew, 2014). Next, the Potato and Produce Project intercepts truckloads of produce that are rejected by commercial markets and potato chip factories due to slight imperfections in size, shape, sugar content, or surface blemishes. If Society of St. Andrew didn’t take and redistribute these loads, it’s likely they would end up in landfill (Society of St. Andrew, 2014). Finally, Harvest of Hope is the organization’s education and recruitment effort. The program has a goal of educating its members and pushing them to be problem solvers (Society of St. Andrew, 2014).

In Indianapolis, Indiana Second Helpings is making a difference in the areas of food recovery, hunger, employment and poverty. According to the Second Helpings website, their organization rescues food from the retail and food service sector to prepare 3,500 nutritious meals every day, feeding hungry people that come to one of 75 agencies seeking assistance. In addition to rescuing food and preparing meals for the less fortunate, Second Helpings trains disadvantaged people to work on foodservice in an effort to eliminate hunger at its source, poverty (Second Helpings, 2014). Many alumni of the organization can be found employed across the state as cooks, executive chefs and culinary instructors (Second Helpings, 2014).

A fairly young organization, Food Recovery Network, is at work on more than 110 college campuses doing similar things. Students at the University of Maryland – College Park collaborated to start the organization after noticing all the waste at the dining halls and sporting events (Food Recovery Network, 2014). After winning several grant awards and media attention from the Washington Post and MSNBC, expansion of the program took off (Food Recovery Network, 2014). According to the group’s website, now efforts in 30 states and the District of Columbia have recovered 605,662 pounds of food (Food Recovery Network, 2014). Each campus team works with the dining establishments on and off campus to direct food that would otherwise be wasted in the landfill to community members in need (Food Recovery Network, 2014). The Network is growing and has set goals to be established at 150 colleges and universities and to have donated 610,000 pounds of food by the end of the 2014-2015 school year (Food Recovery Network, 2014). Within the state of Iowa, Drake University and Grinnell College have active chapters (Food Recovery Network, 2014).

Food Gatherers and their Plant A Row partners are also making a difference in the food recovery scene (Food Gatherers, 2014).  For example, Story County Iowa is served by an organization called Plant A Row for the Hungry. According to their Facebook posts, in 2014 they collected 8,486 lbs. of excess produce to share with those in need around the Ames area. It appears most of the donations have come from vendors at the North Grand Farmers Market, Reiman Gardens, and miscellaneous local gardeners. Members come together from Master Gardeners, Bethesda Community Food Pantry, ACCESS and Reiman Gardens (Plant A Row for the Hungry, 2014).

Non-profit organizations are not the only ones looking to make an impact in food recovery. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, DNR, are two governmental agencies that have stepped up to keep food out of landfills.

The Sustainable Materials Management Program of the EPA announced the Food Recovery Challenge with the goal of preventing and reducing wasted food by partnering with organizations and businesses (Environmental Protection Agency, 2014). The multi-faceted campaign includes a webinar to be held January 2015 and several resources for food services and restaurants. Many of the literature promotes donating extra food. The effort already has several success stories including cases at Harvard University, Quicken Loans, Hannaford Supermarkets, University of Texas at Austin and Intel. Harvard has made efforts to reduce the amount of food sent to landfills through composting, food donation, and waste prevention. Quicken Loans in Ohio partnered with other local venues, including Browns Stadium, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and Progressive Field to monitor and manage food waste. Total food waste was reduced by nearly two tons and the remaining food is sent to a compost program. In Austin, plate-auditing and going tray-less has resulted in 48% reduction of edible food waste. A combination of these strategies has been used by Intel to reduce food waste by 47% and food cost by 13.2% (Environmental Protection Agency, 2014).

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is in charge of another program that helps feed needy Iowans through food rescue methods. HUSH, or Help Us Stop Hunger, has been organized by Iowa deer hunters, the Food Bank of Iowa, meat processors, and the Iowa Department of Natural resources to help reduce the Iowa deer population and provide high-quality protein to hungry Iowans since 2003. According to the DNR website, over 60,000 donated deer have provided 10.8 million lean protein meals processed by 89 participating lockers (Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 2014). The lockers skin, bone, and grind the donations into two-pound packages of pure venison. Local social service agencies get the food to area families struggling with hunger (Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 2014). From personal experience I know many of the donations come from avid hunters who already have full freezers. The meat they give away may otherwise spoil or worse, go unprocessed, so this program is efficiently addressing several needs. 

Finally, a research paper studying food waste, rescue, and hunger called Understanding the Sustainability of Retail Food Recovery published in 2013 takes an in depth look at the economic scalability and sustainability of using organizations like those mentioned before to alleviate hunger in America (Phillips et al, 2013). Without getting too technical, they concluded that with sufficient resources, including volunteers, a significant amount of food can be redirected from loss and waste to feed hungry people in the country (Phillips et al, 2013). The researchers created a model that demonstrated the feasibility of a wide reaching program dependent on food expiration rate, and number of donor retailers (Phillips et al, 2013). 

In conclusion, hunger and food waste are enormous problems in and of themselves, even without regard to the other global economic and environmental issues they create. If strategic plans as explained in Understanding the Sustainability of Retail Food Recovery are developed and implemented by organizations such as Food at First, Second Helpings, Society of St. Andrew and others, food rescue and recovery has the potential to make powerful, positive, worldwide impact. 

Congratulations, you made it to the end! I hope you were as challenged by these topics as I have been and I encourage you to find a way in your local community to become involved in food rescue. If you need any help, don't hesitate to contact me! I'd love to get you in touch with someone. Thanks for reading!

Bell, Randy. 2013. Hungry children at higher risk of poor school performance.     Availableat http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/hungry_children_at_higher_risk_of_poor_school_performance (updated 23 February 2013; verified 4 November 2014). Michigan State University Extension, East Lansing.

City of Ames. 2014. Resource Recovery System. Available at 
http://www.cityofames.org/index.aspx?page=168 (updated 2014; verified 4 November 2014). City of Ames, Ames.

Coleman-Jensen, A., Nord, M., Singh, A. 2012. Household Food Security in the United States in 2012. 
Available at http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1183208/err-155.pdf (updated September 2013; verified 4 November 2014). United States Department of Agriculture, Washington D.C.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2014. Sustainable Materials Management: Food Recovery Challenge. 
Available at http://www.epa.gov/foodrecoverychallenge/ (updated 8 December 2014; 14 December 2014). Environmental Protection Agency, Washington D.C..

Erickson, M. 2014. Food at First receives $20,000 in Walmart holiday makeover. Available at 
http://amestrib.com/news/food-first-receives-20000-walmart-holiday-makeover (updated 16 December 2014; verified 17 December 2014). Ames Tribune, Ames.

FAO, IFAD, and WFP. 2014. The State of Food Indecurity in the World. Available at 
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Feeding America. 2014. Feeding America: Home Page. Available at http://www.feedingamerica.org/ 
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Feeding America. 2014. Feeding America: Hunger in Iowa. Available at 
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Food at First. 2014. Food at First. Available at https://foodatfirst.wordpress.com/ (updated October 
2014; verified 4 November 2014). Food at First, Ames.

Food Bank of Iowa. 2014. Food Bank of Iowa Distributed Over 10 Million Pounds of Food in 2014.
Available at http://www.foodbankiowa.org/Portals/0/pdf%20documents/Food%20Bank%20of%20Iowa%20distributes%20over%2010%20million%20pounds%20of%20food.pdf (updated 27 August; verified 14 December 2014). Food Bank of Iowa, Des Moines.

Food Gatherers. 2014. Plant a Row for the Hungry. Available at 
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Food Recovery Network. 2014. Food Recovery Network: Home. Available at 
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Food Recovery Certified. 2014. Food Recovery Certified: The Issue. Available at 
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Gunders, D. 2012. Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to 
Landfill. Available at http://www.nrdc.org/food/files/wasted-food-ip.pdf (updated August 2012; verified 4 November 2014). National Resources Defense Council, New York City.

Gustavsson, J., Cederberg, C., Sonesson, U. 2011. Global Food Losses and Food Waste. Available at 
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Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 2014. HUSH: Help Us Stop Hunger. Available at 
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Iowa Food Bank Association. 2014. Hunger Study 2010. Available at 
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Iowa State University. 2014. Media Advisory: Iowa State Hunger Dialogue and meal-packaging event. 
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Lappe, F.M. , J. Collins, P. Rosset. 1998. World Hunger Twelve Myths. Second Edition. Grove Press, New York.

Meals from the Heartland. 2014. Facts. Available at http://mealsfromtheheartland.org/hunger/facts/ 
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No Kid Hungry. 2014. Childhood Hunger in America: Facts on Hunger, Poverty and Federal Nutritional 
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Phillips, C., Hoenigman, R., Higbee, B., Reed T., 2013. Understanding the Sustainability of Retail Food 
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Plant A Row For The Hungry. 2014. Plant A Row For The Hungry- Story County, Iowa. Available at 
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United States Census Bureau. 2014. State & County QuickFacts: Story County, Iowa. Available at 
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United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 2013. Household Food Security in 
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