Food waste is an issue all around the world, especially in the United States. It is estimated that 30-40 percent of our food supply is wasted. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, 31 percent of the food loss is at retail and consumer levels. That adds up to 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010 alone. While individuals cannot solve all the world’s food waste problems, they can motivate local governments and local businesses to take action to help solve the issue. 

The problem is pervasive at the local level. For example, one couple fed themselves and sometimes friends and neighbors for six months for approximately $250 on food that would otherwise have been thrown away. In doing so, they showed how little the food was valued. They did this by a combination of negotiating with grocery stores, dumpster diving, and even taking away food from a photoshoot that was destined for the garbage can. 

Without resorting to digging through dumpsters, what can people do at the local level?

Local governments provide information and pass ordinances that promote efficient use of food. For example, the village of Oak Park can help connect businesses and individuals with hunger-relief organizations and people of limited means who do not have enough food. Some food could be sent directly to the local food pantry. Oak Park could also motivate individuals to utilize its existing composting program by giving them a discount on their waste disposal bill for doing so. 

Similar incentives could be offered to Oak Park businesses, including grocery stores, specialty food shops, and restaurants, which throw away lots of food that does not meet their quality standards of freshness and appearance but which is still perfectly good to eat. Those establishments can make connections with food pantries and other charitable organizations to donate food that would otherwise be tossed. 

They can also join the USDA’s Waste 2030 Champions program and commit to reducing food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030. This may sound like a huge scale, but if everyone does their part, it will work. 

The specifics of how to do so can be unclear. First off, the individual may not always know how to find ways to aid the food waste prevention efforts, or that they even exist. But every citizen has the right to create and/or join a group to create change. Those groups can go together to volunteer at the food pantry, donate food, or even go door-to-door to spread word of the issue. 

Another option is to use extra food to guarantee food for animals and animal shelters. The last, and less personal, way to get involved, that is the simplest for an average person, is to compost their food. No matter what, there is always a way individual people can activate their political power, whether it is on a small or large scale.

Lissa Vishneski is a resident of Oak Park.

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