Reducing food waste is one way we can fight food insecurity among unhoused people. There are many levels on which food waste occurs, and those who do have access to food have the ability to change the narrative for those who do not. Redirecting the food that we consider to be “waste” could create a huge shift in how unhoused communities find their next meal.
Food waste is a problem that the United States has been struggling with for years. To illustrate the issue of food insecurity more largely, countries throughout the world face a severe lack of food resources and people within our own country go days without having eaten. It is due time to address this issue as a priority. However, something that directly challenges mitigating food insecurity is the abysmal rates of food waste. Not only do most households in the world waste about 1.3 billion tons of food each year, but households in the U.S. waste about 40 million to 80 billion pounds a year. If we have that amount of food to waste, then we surely must have enough to feed the hungry mouths of people facing food insecurity while being unhoused.
This egregious amount of food waste is problematic when 38.3 million people are experiencing food insecurities. Not only does unequal access to food cause emotional and psychological stress, but it is also found to cause health stressors as well, in both mental and physical areas of life. The relationship unhoused people have with food is a rocky one. Due to a lack of government funding for meal programs and community support, people experiencing homelessness are often on their own to figure out where their next meal is coming from.
Suppose we were able to reduce our food waste. In that case, we could not only do better for the environment, given food waste is a leading contributor to greenhouse gases, but also for people who are experiencing food insecurity as well. There are tons of ways to stop contributing to food waste. The first is on an individual scale where households take note of how much food they are wasting and begin to make changes to how much food they make/purchase vs how much food they actually consume.
The second is on a community level. It is critical that we hold our small businesses, such as restaurants and grocery stores, accountable for the amount of food they waste. Oftentimes, these organizations prematurely end food’s life cycle by throwing it in the trash, when in reality its life cycle could be extended by feeding those in need. Grocery stores are especially guilty of this as they usually toss out “imperfect” foods, mostly fruits and vegetables, that are not as likely to be picked by consumers in the store. These foods, while not aesthetically pristine, are absolutely safe and okay to eat, which means the trash isn’t where they belong.
The last way you can reduce food waste or help in the fight for it is to demand government restrictions on larger corporations, so that the biggest producers of food don’t continue to be the biggest wasters. According to Harvard Business Review, these food retailers are in the best position to target waste due to the direct line they have with every aspect of the supply chain.
The right to food is a human right, and should be prioritized during the fight to end homelessness. Unhoused people are the most at risk for food insecurity, and with the amount of food we waste, there is absolutely no reason that anyone should be going hungry. Food is powerful, and we should be more aware of that the next time we go to our full fridge.