A Food Policy Expert Spills The Best Ways To Actually Cut Waste In Your Kitchen

by Jerald Dyson

I returned from the trip knowing that I wanted to be a part of that field, and while working on a sustainable agriculture project for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), I was put in charge of learning more about waste on farms.

It was at that point that I discovered the degree to which food is wasted in this country and around the world. I couldn’t believe no one was talking about it! I would go to the farmers and food companies I was working with and say, “This report says approximately 40% of U.S. food is going to waste, and 25% of our water is going to grow it—could that possibly be true?” They would think for a moment, nod, and say, “Yeah, that sounds about right.” But they didn’t seem to think that was a problem. This lit a fire under me. There we were, trying to get farmers to be 5 to 10% more efficient with their water, but we weren’t even using more than a third of the food in the end. It was like energy efficiency but for the food sector—except no one was even talking about it, let alone doing anything. 

I began researching incessantly and ultimately published a report called Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40% of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill, which was released by NRDC in 2012. It made breaking news headlines and lit a fire under others as well. From then on, it was like drinking from a firehose, as so many people were interested in taking on food waste. I spent the rest of my time at NRDC focused exclusively on the issue, including testifying before Congress on the topic and partnering with the Ad Council to develop the “Save The Food” campaign, which helps consumers address waste in their own kitchens.

In 2015, a dedicated group of researchers, academics, and investors wrote a new report called theRoadmap To Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent. It was the first national action plan to reduce food waste, and it went beyond just explaining the environmental, social, and economic impacts of food waste to providing actual solutions to fight it and showing what the benefits would be when we did. When it was released in 2016, the response was immediate. Nobody had seen the case for fighting food waste laid out like this before. That report turned into what is now the national nonprofit ReFED, which advances data-driven solutions to end food loss and waste and which I am fortunate enough to lead.


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