An Interns Journey to Fight Food Waste and Reduce Hunger
By Kelly Alarcon
As a full-time Nutrition and Dietetics student and intern at Food Finders, nutrition and reducing hunger and food waste are an important part of my life. I learned in my junior year of school at California State, Long Beach how many people in the United States go to bed hungry every night, so many of them children, and my heart broke. I knew then that my passion for nutrition and eating for wellness was not all I was passionate about.
I realized that in addition to my love of nutrition, my knack for meal planning and shopping on a limited budget was something that could play a big part in helping people to reduce food waste. The question for me was how could I combine these two skills and make a bigger impact?
Food Waste is a Problem
Food waste is a huge problem in the United States with the vast majority of waste occurring in the home. Poor planning and expiration dates on the food we purchase are large contributors. Many would rather toss food they aren’t sure about, which affects the environment and wastes billions of gallons of water each and every month.
Food Finders is an amazing solution to the food waste problem. They have a mission to “eliminate hunger and food waste” through the rescue of food in Southern California, and then they repurpose that food through a network of local community partners. I especially like the final part of their mission: “…while improving nutrition in food insecure communities.”
That is why I am an intern and a Nutrition Talks Educator with them. I have seen some amazing things while working here and for me, the most impressive is that last year, in 2021 they rescued 15,917,982 pounds of food!
Food that became over 13 million meals.
Resources and Education
We are working hard to provide education and resources that explain not only how to properly store food but how to interpret the various expiration dates we see on food such as “use by”, ‘sell by” etc.
The FoodKeepers application supported by the USDA is a great resource to help people sort through the confusing world of labels and dates. It can help you not only interpret the varying expiration date labels but can also explain the best storage methods for various foods to reduce waste.
Meal planning is one of the biggest ways that all of us can stop food waste. Who hasn’t gone to the grocery store hungry and bought more than they needed?
When you plan your meals, or even just your shopping, it reduces food waste. And don’t forget that planning ahead is also easy on your wallet–a big plus! Planning your meals for the week and then creating your shopping list based on your meals can cut food waste by 15% or more. Imagine if we all did that?!
Tip For Cutting Food Waste
- Shop the grocery store weekly ads. With the cost of food up by 25% or more, finding proteins that are on sale that week is where I start my meal planning.
- DO NOT go to the store hungry. Going grocery shopping hungry guarantees I will buy some overpriced and over-processed snacks that I promptly eat on the way home. This not only takes me out of budget but is unhealthy.
- I stick to your list that coordinates with the meals you want to make for the week.
- Prepare your fruits and veggies for the week–so they don’t go bad. If I have salads planned I pre-cut and wash my lettuce, carrots, red cabbage, and cucumbers. I also wash and cut up any melons or fruit for the week as well. Doing this makes busy weeks easier and allows for a nutritious snack of fruit that is easy to grab.
Nutrition Talks Program
This is all information I use when in a Nutrition Talk event with one of our partner agencies. I do a basic overview of nutrition and its importance with interactive tools that keep people engaged in what they are learning. One example is my Nutrition Facts Label workshop which starts with a scavenger hunt looking for a pantry item with a nutrition facts label and ties up with a Q & A on what was learned. This coming week’s talk will also have Isabel Gallegos, my supervisor and co-creator of the Nutrition Talks Program. We will be looking in the partner agencies’ refrigerators and pantries to create a meal with what they have deemed as surplus foods that they have indicated typically go to waste. It is an eye-opening event!
This is just one more of what Food Finders does to reduce hunger and food waste. It isn’t enough that we are getting food into the hands of those who are in need but also to educate them on the many nutrient-dense meals that can be created while reducing waste.
#StopFoodWasteWednesday #nutritiontalks #tipsforzerowaste #foodfindersinc
Kelly Alarcon, a Student at California State University, Long Beach with a concentration in Nutrition and Dietetics has a passion for showing others the path to wellness through nutrition while reducing hunger and food waste. https://www.linkedin.com/in/kelly-alarcon-194313220/