When a Catholic in our diocese learned that a local food pantry was closing and could no longer pick up out-of-date food donated by the grocery store in town, he vowed to prevent that food from going to waste. He called a parish with an extensive ministry to the hungry and offered to make regular deliveries of edible food that otherwise would be discarded. His gesture is one example of how ordinary Catholics can respond to our obligation to feed the hungry and practice good stewardship of our earth.
More than “one-third of all available food goes uneaten through loss or waste,” which thwarts efforts to improve food security, economic growth and environmental prosperity, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports. A draft national strategy, announced Dec. 2, aims to “mitigate the environmental repercussions of wasted food, including its impact on the climate” (usda.gov/foodlossandwaste).
The strategy’s objectives focus on preventing food loss and food waste when possible, increasing the recycling rate for all organic waste and supporting policies that incentivize prevention of food loss, food waste, and organics recycling. The 30-day public comment period opened Dec. 5. Share comments through Regulations.gov, Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OLEM-2022-0415.
The USDA announcement came during the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which concludes Dec. 12. The conference’s overarching goal is to encourage the parties — 197 nations and the European Union — to “negotiate and agree on how to tackle climate change, reduce emissions and limit global warming” (https://tinyurl.com/4js4u548). Inside Climate News reported beforehand that the conference would have an “unprecedented focus on food and agriculture.” The reason? “The food system, from farm to fork, is responsible for about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions” (https://tinyurl.com/4fwrvuee).
Our care for Creation begins with ensuring that all people have access to the food they need to sustain themselves and to thrive. The USDA website offers suggestions that help us to respond to our Gospel obligations. Among the suggestions:
- On-farm storage can help reduce post-harvest loss by giving farmers effective, safe, accessible storage. USDA’s Farm Service Agency offers the Farm Storage Facility Loan Program (FSFL), which provides low-interest financing to help producers build or upgrade storage facilities. Eligible commodities include grains, hay, renewable biomass commodities, hops, dairy products, unprocessed meat and poultry, aquaculture, and more.
- Value-added products help farmers and ranchers get new customers and keep more of the profits from the commodities they produce. The USDA’s Rural Development Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program helps agricultural producers enter into value-added activities related to processing or marketing.
- Donations. A number of laws and programs make such donations easier, the USDA states, such as the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.
- Business resources for reducing food waste are available at the above website address.
- Donations. Businesses also have protections under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.
- Tax benefits. The federal government provides enhanced tax deductions to businesses, partnerships and sole proprietorships to encourage donations of fit and wholesome food to qualified nonprofits. Learn more on the website.
- Plan ahead: Before you go to the grocery store or order online, make a list so you don’t buy more than you need.
- Serve smart: Practice portion control.
- Love your leftovers: Pack leftovers in small portions in shallow containers, mark the contents and date, refrigerate and use within three to four days or freeze immediately.
- Compost, don’t trash: Recycle food scraps for compost, an organic material that you can add to soil to help plants grow. Set up a home compost bin or drop off your food waste at a compost center.
- Understand food date labels: With the exception of infant formula, if the date on a food product passes during home storage, it should still be safe and wholesome if handled properly. When spoilage becomes apparent, do not eat the food. Read the fact sheet on the USDA website. You can also download the Foodkeeper app at FoodSafety.gov.
- Offer versus serve. Allow students to decline some components of a reimbursable meal to provide choice and reduce waste. This option is mandatory in high schools but optional for elementary and middle schools.
- Market meals. Highlight new foods on menus and serving lines. Consider holding taste tests and recipe competitions or create a student advisory committee to provide feedback on food acceptability and recipe names.
- Extend lunch from 20 minutes to 30 minutes, which may improve dietary intake and reduce food waste.
- Create share tables, designated stations where children may return whole and/or unopened food or beverage items they choose not to eat. Then, make these items available to other children. The USDA website offers implementation guidelines.
Individually and collectively, we have a responsibility to creatively and sacrificially feed the hungry and care for Creation, like the Catholic man who chose to donate his time and travel expenses to deliver still-edible food to a parish food ministry.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor