"Eat everything on your plate. We don't waste food around here." Mothers of baby boomers gave that ultimatum to their children. Those memories came to mind during KPCC's recent forum called, "Getting Wasted: L.A's Food Excess."
Moldy fruit, rotting vegetables, stale bread and leftovers are some of the uneaten foods that get trashed every week across the country. Lots of fresh produce is also being allowed to spoil in family refrigerators. "In the U.S., we waste around 40 percent of all edible food," according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Lots of usable food ends up in landfills. "We're a throwaway society," said Michael Flood, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
"The average American throws out between 28 and 43 dollars worth of food every month," said Desiree Gutierrez. She's an expert on sustainable communities and food policy. Gutierrez moderated the KPCC event on food waste held at the station's Crawford Family Forum.
"Time is the villain when it comes to food waste," said Robert Egger, founder of the DC Kitchen. The Washington-area community kitchen turns tons of leftover and surplus food into healthy meals, and also offers a culinary arts job training program. Egger is set to open the LA Kitchen here on the West Coast.
Bonnie Lee La Madeleine and Jean-Francois Chenier want to help people become smarter shoppers, eat healthier foods, and plan meals with the goal of zero waste. "Cook what you need for just one meal to avoid waste," said Chenier. "I will eat the whole squash. Seeds can be roasted and the skin is edible," said La Madeleine. She and Chenier created a blog called "222 Million Tons," and an accompanying app. 222-million tons of food is wasted in industrialized nations each year, according to The United Nations.
L.A. County's top health official says food education should start in pre-schools by teaching children about small gardens. "If you grow something, then use it, you feel differently about wasting it," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health. More restaurants, hotels and caterers are now donating unserved food, too.
Even if it isn't actually eaten, surplus food material can be recycled in other ways. Grocery giant Kroger is using food waste to generate energy to run its distribution center in Compton. Kroger says it uses a process that converts tons of rotting organic material into methane gas that runs turbine engines.
That means it isn't just thrifty moms these days who know the power of food.
[Reva Hicks is a freelance writer, who worked for Channel 4 news for over 30 years.]