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Waste not: Localizing food in a Global Kitchen

Marc Lefkowitz  |  01/06/17 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Food

GreenCityBlueLake and Cleveland Museum of Natural History was “Kickin it with Kenny” Crumpton from Fox 8 News this morning. We discussed meaty topics like the future of growing food (animal-free meat and vertical farming!), plus, what to do about food waste live from the Global Kitchen exhibit at the Natural History Museum (open through this Sunday).

<br />Food waste explained at the Global Kitchen exhibit, on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History until January 8, 2017. <br />Images of the Ohio City Farm an urban agriculture venture in Cleveland. From the NEO Natural: Beyond the Global Kitchen exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Images from Cleveland Heights photographer, Donna Turner Ruhlman.

The problem of food waste is a big one. As the Global Kitchen exhibit image (above) shows, the average American family of four forfeits 1,665 pounds of food per year to the landfill. That translates to 30% of the food we buy.

While discussing this with Crumpton, I mentioned that, from a planetary perspective, the problem with food waste is its high carbon footprint. 35% of the greenhouse gasses (GHGs) released into the atmosphere come from raising livestock, fertilizing corn, trucking broccoli 1,500 miles from California to Ohio, refrigerating it and sometimes wasting it. GHGs are like a heat-trapping blanket; they are contributing to climate change.

Here’s the thing: While we talked about composting and re-usable containers for leftovers during the segment, individual actions will not significantly change a problem the size of food waste. Composting, like recycling, is good, but it doesn’t serve any better purpose than not losing some of the energy it took to grow, transport and store that food. The rest of the calories it took to get that apple or broccoli to your plate would be better off feeding someone who is hungry.

The scale of our food waste issue demands systemic change. To get at a solution to food waste we should work together in mutually supportive groups on a project that bends the arc, for example, of how much food is lost during the distribution (tons).

Conventional methods for storing food require early picking and high-energy storage. The time and distance food travels today is a major contributor to whole lots of food being rejected by the time it reaches the local food depot and grocer. The solution to the problem may be in promoting more local food production. If we can cut the time and distance drastically while supporting the local economic prospects of Greater Clevelanders and address the problem of vacant land—by providing an infusion of economic development funds to more of the type of urban agriculture models like the Ohio City Farm and the Rid All Green Partnership, we start to bend that arc with a market-driven solution.

Ultimately, deriving a solution for food waste will require a group effort, not focused on the “end of the line.” It probably won't be easy. But, if we pick a piece of how our food is grown, harvested, distributed, transported or finally how we as consumers influence decisions such as the landfill of tons of food before it even reaches a grocery store (because it is assumed people won’t eat a piece of fruit with a spot on it—even if that is just the sugars coming out, making it the sweetest piece), we will be working at a community scale required to address big environmental concerns like food waste.

Here are some people and organizations in the Greater Cleveland area who are growing a variety of food, or who are saving it by donating to those who are hungry, or who are composting it as a last resort.

  • The Greater Cleveland Food Bank
  • The City Mission

  • The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition
  • NEO Food Web (Brad Masi)
  • Cleveland Permaculture https://www.facebook.com/Cleveland-Permaculture-179364559862/?fref=ts
  • Hub 55 (food hub)
  • Food Not Lawns
  • The Ohio State University Agriculture Extension (Northeast Ohio office)

  • The Ohio City Farm/Refugee Response
  • The Rid All Green Partnership
  • The Cleveland Botanical Garden Green Corps.
  • City of Cleveland Summer Sprouts (community garden) program
  • Cuyahoga County Department of Developmental Disabilities urban agriculture program (Stanard Farm)
  • Vel’s Purple Oasis

  • City Fresh/Community Supported Agriculture
  • Rust Belt Riders (local composting)

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