The U.S. has a big food waste problem, even as many Americans go hungry. Learn some tips on how you can reduce food waste while giving back. #CentSai #goodideas #tips #food

How to Reduce Food Waste and Help the HungryThe idea of “using less” is at the core of contemporary environmentalist movements — we are instructed to reduce, reuse, and recycle, in that particular order. This applies not only to using reusable shopping bags and avoiding cheap textiles from fast fashion, but also to reducing food waste.

Americans throw away more than 150,000 pounds of food every day, according to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), with restaurants and grocery stores being some of the worst offenders. The USDA also estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in our country — worth about $161 billion — is lost to waste. This is food that could feed our homeless and impoverished population, and help toward eliminating hunger in America.

In the U.S. alone, 14.3 million households are “food insecure” according to the most recent data from the USDA, meaning these families don’t have enough food to make it to their next paycheck, rely on some sort of Federal program to help them afford food, get food from local pantries and community centers, or get by eating an unhealthy or unvaried diet. 

The U.S. has a big food waste problem, even as many Americans go hungry. Learn some tips on how you can reduce food waste while giving back. #CentSai #goodideas #tips #food

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For a long time, most food-related businesses simply accepted the fact that they would have to dispose of some of their stock due to rot or expiration. But now, there are a number of groups that aren’t afraid to take on the daunting task of feeding the hungry, while combating the United States’ food waste problem. Here are a few fighting the good fight, and how you can partner with them in the fight to end food insecurity:

Using Apps to Reduce Food Waste

A number of companies and tech start-ups have taken a contemporary approach to tackling the food waste problem. These companies serve as interlocutors between businesses and individuals who have food to give away and people looking for free (or heavily discounted) food.

One such app is Olio, founded in 2015 and available for iPhone and Android. Olio allows users to take and post pictures of their unwanted food. It then uses their location to match them with nearby individuals who may want to take that food off their hands. 

Olio Food Application, Reduce Food Waste, Help the Hungry

Image via Olio’s website

The application provides its users with a win-win scenario; individuals who are conscious of their food waste can rest assured their leftovers aren’t going to waste. 

Users can meet with the person or use an Olio drop box available in select cities to give him or her their food. It’s that simple. And they’re certainly not the only ones taking advantage of smartphone technology as a means to reduce food insecurity in America’s cities.

Apps like Food For All and Flash Food connect users with restaurants and grocery stores respectively, providing smartphone owners with huge markdowns on food that would otherwise be thrown out. They’re available for use by anyone, regardless of economic background, so they’re a good fit for individuals who either cannot afford wholesome food at full price or individuals seeking to save soon-to-expire sustenance from a landfill. 

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Likewise, food sustainability nonprofit Rescuing Leftover Cuisine is one of the country’s largest combatants of food waste and insecurity, using a web application that allows restaurants and grocery stores to directly notify their partner shelters when they have food available, providing a pipeline directly between the vendors and those in need. 

How Restaurants Combat the Food Waste Problem

For many restaurateurs, it can be difficult to set aside the time and resources to donate your unused food — especially when your first focus is your business’s bottom line.

“The food-service industry typically does not participate in food rescue programs because of the logistics and associated expense,” says food systems educator Jennifer Kaplan, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America. “Even when recovery services are free of charge, the logistics of preparing for food recovery cost money in time [opportunity cost] and labor.”

That being said, there are many restaurants trying to make an impact in the world of food waste. To that end, some of these businesses partner with organizations to give away their unsold food and ingredients — and they are encouraged to do so under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act and through the tax breaks they can receive for donating.

Others are taking things to the next level by using waste food to create fine-dining experiences that would impress even the toughest food critics. For example, Graffiti Earth is a restaurant in Manhattan that heavily uses “ugly” produce — vegetables and fruits with cosmetic blemishes — that would otherwise go to waste.

Grafitti Earth, Reduce Food Waste

Photo via Graffiti Earth website

The restaurant transforms these vegetables and fruits into astonishingly beautiful dishes with unique Indian and Persian twists by head chef Jehangir Mehta.

Graffiti Earth also prides itself on using sustainable proteins and underused fish that put less stress on the environment. All of this is packed into an intimate, farmhouse-inspired space and results in an unparalleled, guilt-free dining experience. Graffiti Earth is one of a few restaurants around the world that are changing the way we see food waste, one plate at a time.

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Add to that, there are numerous go-between organizations, such as Food Cowboy and Food Rescue that help connect restaurants with volunteers available to shuttle leftovers from businesses to food pantries and donation centers. 

By building networks between community organizations and businesses who may not have the human capital to drop off donations, these organizations help cut down the food waste that often seems necessary for bars, restaurants, and cafés. Plus, as stated earlier, our own government helps incentivize food donations.

“For-profit entities may be eligible for tax deductions, as businesses can deduct the lesser of twice the base value of the donated food, or the profit margin if the food were sold at its fair market value,” concludes Kaplan. Consider that a win — both for a business’s profitability and in the fight against hunger nationwide.

What We All Can Do

Besides doing our parts to buy only what we need — and perhaps taking advantage of grocers and restaurants selling near-expired food on the cheap — there are steps we can all take in our day-to-day lives to help reduce food waste. 

Steps such as repurposing fruits and vegetables that you would normally throw away — or simply shopping more often to eliminate the likelihood that something will go bad in your fridge or pantry — are great ways to eliminate food waste on an individual level.

Additionally, seeking out food pantries, food banks, and food rescue programs (if you have an excess of already prepared food) can ensure your already purchased or cooked food doesn’t end up in a landfill. 

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To that end, you can use Feeding America’s food bank locator,, Ample Harvest’s food pantry database, and the Homeless Shelter Directory to find centers in your area fighting food insecurity. 

Additionally, you can make a monetary donation to a nonprofit, such as the aforementioned Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, food bank network Feeding America, and Why Hunger

By all of us doing our part — food businesses and individuals alike — we can help to lessen the burden of food insecurity and hunger in America, while giving back to our planet by reducing food waste.

Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney