Food waste reduction—One stone: two birds or 88 skips?

Food waste reduction—One stone: two birds or 88 skips?

To be sure, the idea of killing two birds with one stone conjures an unpleasant image we’d rather not entertain. From what I can gather, the idiom dates to the 1600s and was a reference to the above-average skill a small-bird hunter would need to kill not one, but two, feathered friends with a slingshot.

In my Internet travels for this post I also learned that many an organization have sponsored contests challenging people to come up with more animal-friendly versions of the expression—apparently to little avail. So I offer this substitute for the killing-birds idiom: “You can manage a slew of skips with one stone.” Yes, in searching for an alternative to birds, I stumbled on the sport of stone skipping (also called stone skimming). The current record is held by American Kurt Steiner who, on September 6, 2013, cast one stone that made 88 consecutive skips across the water at Red Bridge, near Kane, Pennsylvania.

Rarely does one action present with so much potential to achieve more than one pressing objective at the same time. But food waste reduction at scale is one such thing—it can help us make enormous progress toward food security and curtailing greenhouse gas emissions. It’s almost criminal that in the U.S. we lose or trash about 30 to 40 percent of our food supply when so many in our midst are hungry. And discarded food is the largest component of solid waste in landfills, where its rot emits climate-changing methane that keeps wreaking environmental havoc all around us.

There are regulatory fixes, operational efficiencies, and changes in industry norms that would help alleviate the problem up and down the supply chain. And even though U.S. grocery stores discard billions of dollars’ worth of food that is “damaged” or close to the [misunderstood] sell-by date, in developed economies, the biggest perpetrators of food waste are consumers. According to the USDA, American households spend $1,500 annually on food they never eat.

Dana Gunders, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council and an early food-waste whistleblower, talks about how focusing on food waste reduction can help solve multiple problems at once. She adds job creation to the solutions mix—such as those that might spring from municipal composting programs. There’s also energy savings from cutting down on transporting food waste from home or store to the landfill. And of course, the $1,500 families could save by buying only what they will consume is nothing to sneeze at.

Here I’ve noted the two major and three important peripheral goals that can be accomplished with one food-waste-reduction stone—and it has many more legs. I say: 88 skips? We can bring it on! In subsequent posts I’ll continue pointing out how addressing the issue of food waste reduction can make substantive differences in people’s lives.