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Growing Food Waste Leadership from the Ground Up

Monica Munn — Former Senior Program Associate, Program Strategy, The Rockefeller Foundation
Yvette Cabrera — Former Food Waste Analyst

The first few months of 2017 have shown encouraging signs that last year’s momentum on food waste continues to grow. Voluntary guidelines to clarify date labels have been launched by industry associations, cities are incorporating food and organic waste strategies into their sustainability plans, and more companies are setting zero food waste targets. We know, however, that wider and long-lasting change requires local food waste leaders to make sure these top-down directives and goals are translated into action. This means encouraging more business and policy leaders to do more to build a sustainable food system.

How to become a local food waste warrior? To hum a few bars from Ed Sheeran’s new food waste anthem, first, we need to get smart about our personal waste. We know that consumers are responsible for 43% of the food wasted in the United States. Studies have shown that Americans vastly underestimate how much wasted food is avoidable and how much we throw out compared to our neighbors. But what to do once you’ve frozen your brown bananas for smoothies, taken leftovers home from the restaurant, and started composting? Galvanize change in your community – be it your city, your office, or your school’s campus.

To help you become a local food waste warrior, we’re excited to share several new tools from our YieldWise grantees– Feedback, Universities Fighting World Hunger, and Campus Kitchens Project!

Since 2009, Feedback Global has organized Feeding the 5000 events order to raise awareness about food waste, highlight great local work already underway, call on other stakeholders to take action, and inspire local solutions. Now, Feedback Global has poured their years of knowledge and experience around organizing these events into a Feeding the 5000 Toolkit to empower other organizations and individuals to run food waste-fighting and movement-building feasts on their own. The toolkit covers every aspect of event creation and management, from promotion and volunteer coordination to logistics and food sourcing.

Feeding the 5000 events serve as a visceral reminder of the quality food that goes to waste every day, and challenge the public perception of what constitutes “waste.” Across the five events Feedback organized in the U.S. last year, 21,000 pounds of surplus food were diverted to serve 29,000 meals to the general public that otherwise would have been wasted. Feeding the 5000 events also catalyze and invigorate food waste coalitions in the communities where they’ve taken place. For example, a new Colorado-based social enterprise focused on gleaning, UpRoot, was established by local partners involved in last October’s Feeding the 5000 Front Range. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Feeding the 5000 or Feeding the 500 – these events raise awareness and build coalitions that inspire people to re-value food. 


University campuses are also a hot spot for food waste activism not only because of the vast amount of food served every day on campus, but because today’s students are the next generation of food waste warriors. To mobilize student leaders to fight food waste and hunger on campus and in surrounding communities, Universities Fighting World Hunger and Campus Kitchens Project created Trash Hunger, Not Food: A Guide to End Food Waste on Campus. Developed for students, by students, this resource includes food waste facts, examples of individual actions, and practical campus-wide projects that can be implemented on any university campus.

Ending food waste at universities and colleges begins with student’s individual actions and ramps up with campus-wide activities. Students can reduce food waste in their own lives by putting less food on their trays, or by taking a cooking class to learn how to use all of the parts of their produce and meat. On their campus, students can activate change by helping their food service providers undertake a food waste audit, donate food on move-out day through organizations like Move For Hunger, or invite outside groups to host awareness events on food waste issues. Food waste is ripe for action, and students and university administrators can lead by example.

These toolkits are just a few examples of the many resources already available to help local food waste warriors to affect change in their communities. If you’re looking for more information and inspiration on what you can do to keep food out of landfills, visit Further With Food, a virtual resource center dedicated to highlighting food waste solutions. There is already so much we can start doing today to take accountability for our own waste and to inspire our peers and neighbors to save food.

This piece is part of our 2017 Earth Day series.

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