by Marsha Rakestraw
“Every day, we’re teaching kids that food is trash.” ~ Jonathan Bloom
Our school food systems in the US are not set up to minimize waste or encourage healthy habits.
Students are often rushed at lunchtime, may have unappetizing food options, may be given (or take) much more food than they’ll eat, and then they often only have the option to throw their leftovers (and sometimes their single-use plastic trays) in the trash.
According to a 2018 study, worldwide we’re wasting more than 30% of our food (about 1.6 billion tons), and that number could increase to 2.1 billion tons annually by 2030.
Another 2018 study shows that young adults, ages 18-24, tend to waste more food, in part because they don’t understand the impacts of food waste.
And the impacts of such waste aren’t just hurting hungry people and bolstering dysfunctional systems.
A 2013 FAO report shows that there is a significant “environmental footprint of food wastage” that affects “climate, water, land and biodiversity.” Food waste also negatively impacts wild animals and farmed animals.
According to the book and website Drawdown, which looks at solutions to reduce the impacts of global warming, reducing food waste is #3! So the potential to do a lot of good is significant.
Since food is a daily part of our lives, food waste is a valuable issue to explore with students, so that they can develop and enact meaningful habits and solutions.
Here are 17 resources to get you started on teaching about food waste.
(Note that most of these resources leave animals as individuals out of the circle of concern.)
1. Food Waste Is the World’s Dumbest Problem (9:22 min)
This video looks at some of the reasons we waste food and some of the solutions people are using to address this problem.
2. Global Food Waste Explained (with 5 Tomatoes) (2:41 min)
A creative way to show what happens to the food we don’t eat. (Note: This video is from 2013, so the specific statistics are out of date.)
3. Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story (75 min)
Follows a couple who have pledged to live off food waste and shares their discoveries about how our systems are set up to force us to waste food.
4. Why Do We Pay for Waste? (9:45 min)
Tristram Stuart, author and food waste activist, discusses the problem of food waste and highlights some of the potential solutions.
Articles and Reports:
5. Food Loss and Food Waste
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has several publications and resources that outline the global food waste problem and provide potential solutions to reduce food waste
6. How Much Food Do We Waste? Probably More Than You Think
This brief NY Times article highlights how “we manage to waste so much” and some of the efforts to reverse that trend.
7. Schooling Food Waste: How Schools Can Teach Kids to Value Food
Author and advocate Jonathan Bloom offers insights into the importance of teaching students in schools about food waste and how schools and kids can waste less.
8. Want to Tackle Food Waste and Help Animals? Start Here
An essay from Faunalytics looks at the impacts of food waste on nonhuman animals and why that is relevant to people who care about animals.
Websites and Blogs:
9. Cafeteria Culture
Cafeteria Culture is an organization working in New York City to create “zero-waste public school cafeterias and vibrant communities.” Although based in NYC, their ideas and resources are helpful for any school wanting to go zero-waste.
10. I Value Food
This website offers a waste quiz and numerous resources about food waste and tips for wasting less.
This nonprofit uses “a data-driven approach” to offer information and solutions for reducing food waste at all levels.
12. Smarter Lunchrooms Movement
This program provides schools with tools and resources to “build a lunchroom environment that makes healthy food the easy choice” and that reduces waste.
13. U.S. EPA Sustainable Management of Food
This website offers an overview of food waste in the US, and provides tips and resources for what individuals, businesses, and other organizations can do to reduce food waste.
14. Wasted Food
Author and blogger Jonathan Bloom writes about “why we waste food, why it matters, and what we can do about it.”
Lesson Plans and Activities:
15. Food Waste: An Educator’s Guide
This resource offers discussion and exploration ideas for investigating food waste.
16. Trash Investigators
What’s in our trash that doesn’t need to be there? Participants investigate a trash source and analyze which items can be removed from the waste stream.
17. Our Wasted Food
This lesson explores some of the reasons food waste is a problem and ways to reduce it.
Find more resources about food waste in our curated Food Waste Pinterest board.
Image courtesy of JBLM PAO/Flickr.