AND SHELBY MORING
Imagine walking into Bonita Vista’s cafeteria, smelling the one of the 35 meal options that are rotated biweekly– like freshly-baked breadsticks or pizza. You hurriedly march to the counter to retrieve your meal behind other hungry Barons. You spy ten paper trays of food and side options to choose from, before thanking the cafeteria employee for preparing your lunch. Now, out of nowhere, you grab three of those ten trays full of food and just throw them into the trash.
That would be an odd scenario, right? Taking perfectly good food and simply throwing it away without a second thought? Of course it would be, but that is what America does every year. We throw away 40 percent of our food. Nearly half of our fresh-farmed produce, home-cooked meals, and pre-packaged lunches end up rotting away in a landfill. Some of this food, like the greens and skins of fruits and veggies, is composted, but not to a degree nearly large enough to tip the scale from garbage to fertilizer.
Food waste is a serious issue, both economically and environmentally at multiple national and local levels. According to EndFoodWasteNow.org, on average, high schools around the country waste about 30 to 35 percent of their food yearly. The school’s Food and Lunch Services Supervisor, Ana Madrigal, stated that Bonita Vista prepares between 650-700 meals each day, totalling to 117,000 and 126,000 meals each year. Nearly 40,000 meals are wasted every year when the aforementioned EndFoodWasteNow.org statistic is taken into account. That means that Bonita Vista cafeteria employees could essentially throw out 210 of the lunches they make everyday because that same amount of food inevitably ends up in the trash regardless. Also given the fact that school lunches in the Sweetwater Union High School District are $2.40 each, Bonita Vista is seeing $504 of its budget at the bottom of a garbage can daily (that totals to almost $94,500 each school year).
But why should you care, right? You eat what you want from your cafeteria lunch and throw the rest out. You walk away full and happy. However, food waste is a more complex topic than it first appears. It might seem like just an apple or half of a spicy chicken sandwich in the trash, but it is also dozens of other things: thousands in money lost, pounds added to local landfills, harmful chemicals spewed up into the air by the garbage trucks that have to come collect our scraps. Those are just some of the negative effects of wasting food, not including all of the other environmental, social, and economic impacts it can have.
It is detrimental to the some 50 million Americans who do not have access to enough food, when schools continue to waste food at the rate Bonita Vista does. Rather than let overwhelmingly high percentages of food go to waste, it would be more beneficial to feed the surrounding community and not landfills. Unfortunately, Bonita Vista’s cafeteria simply throws out prepared meals that students do not take. The leftover food cannot be given to the less fortunate due to district policy.
Organizations can donate safe and healthy products to food banks; these products will eventually end up in the homes of hungry families instead of the landfills of our country. When food is wasted, the American community suffers.
In addition to the negative societal effects that food waste has on the country as a whole, the economy is impacted, too. When food waste is not separated from trash, some haulers charge more, thus raising the cost of garbage disposal. Properly separating food waste, by sending it to composting rather than landfilling, serves as a cost efficient way to dispose of trash. Correctly disposing of food waste alone will benefit the economy.
Further, making strides to prevent food waste allows businesses to reduce costs by purchasing only food that will be used in the future. By reducing food waste, the business industry can expect an increase in staff efficiency and reduce all labor associated with food disposal. Food waste also impacts taxes, often in negative ways. When food is wasted, instead of being donated for consumption, businesses cannot claim tax benefits. So when wholesome and edible food is donated to food banks and food rescue organizations, businesses are able to reap the benefits in addition to feed those in need.
It is clear that accumulated food waste harms us on environmental, social, and economic levels. Before we can actively reform the nature of our food disposal, it is important to understand which areas we need to improve on. We cannot continue to contribute to landfills by disposing large amounts of untouched food. Food waste affects nearly every aspect of our lives and it must be taken seriously.