America’s plenty, America’s waste

By Jessica Vaughn

DES MOINES, Iowa — The issue of food waste is moving to the forefront of global problems associated with food insecurity. Grantees of the Pulitzer Center for Crisis reporting, a non-profit organization that funds independent journalism projects, addressed the issue during a panel at the World Food Prize Tuesday night.


Karim Chrobog, director of “Wasted”

The Pulitzer Center grantees included Karim Chrobog, documentary filmmaker, Lynn Hicks, executive business editor of the Des Moines Register, and Rodney White, Des Moines Register staff photographer. Sharon Schmickle, journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist, moderated the panel.

Chrobog’s film “Wasted,” which focuses on food waste in the U.S., chronicles the mass amounts of food that never make it onto a plate, or even off the farm. Among the findings:

  • 90 percent of U.S. landfills are made up of food.
  • 40 percent of food in the U.S. is never eaten.
  • If food waste in the U.S. were a country it would rank third in greenhouse gas emissions.
    Chrobog believes those statistics can be reduced.

“Food waste is a solvable problem in my opinion,” he said. “Nobody likes to throw away food.”

In the film, organizations in the Washington D.C. area like D.C. Central Kitchen and Manna Food Center rescue blemished food that would normally be wasted and repurpose it for consumption. They do this by freezing it, cooking it into soups or using other methods.

These organizations efforts are diminishing the amount of food waste, but do not completely solve the problem of food insecurity. The problem, they say, is about poverty and distribution of wealth, not the amount of food being produced.

Hicks and White addressed the food waste issue in China after spending 20 days studying the country’s agricultural system as part of a Pulitzer Center grant.

The Chinese plan, Eight Solutions to China’s Food Challenge, focuses on getting the most out of the land that is home to 20 percent of the world’s population, but accounts for only 9 percent of the world’s farmland. The eight steps include ideas of increasing yield without increasing farmland, reducing trade barriers, reducing food waste and increasing food security

The panelists contend that in order to carry out plans to solve food waste issues, there has to be a greater societal understanding of the problem.

“We need to change our perception of what food waste is,” Chrobog said. The impact of food that ends up in a landfill goes beyond the solid waste, he said. “It’s hard money. It’s jobs. It’s not just wasted food.”

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