Jul 202011

by Kathryn Cai

Part of the reason why I love the summertime is that I’m so happy and carefree. I can bask in sunshine all day long and play outside surrounded by growing things. It would be silly to overlook, however, the contribution that food brings to my happy, healthy mentality. In the summer, I happily admit my  consumption of alarmingly large quantities of fresh fruit and produce. I am among the fortunate, however, when it comes to getting enough to eat, and furthermore getting enough that is healthy for me to eat.

The Food Security Assessment of the USDA (measuring food security in developing countries for the coming decade) estimates that approximately 882 million people are classified as “food insecure,” a designation that refers to an inability to access food that would fulfill adequate nutritional value. “Food security” encompasses “the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods” as well as “an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” The study predicts that the current level of food insecurity will only decrease by an aggregate 1% over the course of the decade, and that the situation in sub-Saharan Africa is particularly dire.

However, food insecurity is hardly an issue confined to the developing world. Prosperity in the United States itself is far from evenly distributed, and over 50 million people in the U.S. are food insecure. In the Smith School’s own backyard, the District of Columbia experiences food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than the national average, with most recent average values of 11.1% of households food insecure in D.C. versus 9.7% nationally.

As the global food crisis deepens, consumers and businesses in the past few years have increasingly recognized the importance of attempting to reduce food waste. Composting has become mainstream and available to restaurants and larger food providers, while organizations like Feeding America (formerly America’s Second Harvest) are able to collect leftover uneaten food from restaurants and redistribute it in their kitchens.

While these efforts are undoubtedly vital in reducing waste and contributing to a more sustainable approach to managing food, I continue to be troubled by the implications of the mentality that creates so much unwanted food in the first place. After all, composting large amounts of food that could have been consumed in the first place by people who need it requires both the time and energy to restart the cycle and convert those nutrients back into a usable product. Recycling, as ever, should not take the place of reduction in the first place: buy and use what is needed, and produce less waste in general.

That being said, composting the inevitable waste that will be produced, however little, is certainly far more sustainable that dumping it in the trash, and contributing to food kitchens is a way to put leftover food to good use. While a fundamental paradigm shift is needed to alter the way we view consumption, we should also recognize the efforts of those taking action now and working to build a more sustainable and conscientious system within our present framework.

Kathryn Cai (UG ’11) is a Summer Intern at the Center of Social Value Creation at the Robert H. Smith School of Business of the University of Maryland, and works in special projects and social media strategy.

  One Response to “Composting vs. Reducing: Finding a Happy Medium for Food Consumption”

  1. With approximately 12% of municipally-generated waste comprised of food scraps it is important that we utilize composting as a reactive effort. However, you make a very good point (and one that is often never addressed) that perhaps a proactive approach of less consumption (the key approach of “REDUCE”) may in fact be a stronger factor in our overall environmental efforts.

    If composting can help divert alomost 32 million tons a year from our landfills, just imagine what we might be able to accomplish through reduction.

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