Food Waste in America

Maui Vegan Restaurant

 Food Waste in America is not something I find myself thinking about nearly as much plastic waste in our oceans and landfills. Perhaps it’s because it’s something we intrinsically try to avoid at home as well as at Moku Roots, whereas avoiding plastics in today’s society is a little trickier.  Lost food equals lost profits of course, or in your home its your hard earned money spent on food and lost into your trash can.  It’s a huge bummer throwing away money in the form of food, but the bummer doesn’t stop there. It’s also throwing away the resources (including 25% of all fresh water) that were used to create the food, the carbon footprint to ship it all the way out to the middle of the ocean, and whatever pesticides if any are now on the soil from when it was grown and Americans do it at an astonishing rate.  330,000,000 lbs of food are thrown out EVERY SINGLE DAY in America and if that number sounds familiar to you that’s because 330 Million people is roughly the population of the United States.   

This statistic doesn’t necessarily say that each person physically dumps 1 lb of food into the trash every day, because waste happens every step of the way up the supply chain from farmer to your table.  Just shy of 20% of that happens at the farm level where either the produce is imperfect so its discarded or there is no buyer and never hits market.  Roughly 40% of the waste happens at the grocery store/restaurant level, falling just behind what is wasted at a home level.   

So why is it that 40% OF ALL FOOD produced is thrown away, and an even higher 50% of all produce grown is thrown away?  Even though it rarely feels like food is inexpensive, especially in Hawaii where a gallon of the cheapest milk can sometimes run you ten dollars, Americans spend 6% of their incomes on food whereas in a poorer country such as Nigeria or the Philippines, one needs to spend about half of their salary to purchase enough food to survive.  People are hungry in this world and half of the food is going into the trash with very little infrastructure to get what would be discarded food to people who need it and probably way more laws than I’m aware of preventing that from ever happening. Did you know that the protocol for most grocery stores when one egg of a dozen is broken to throw away the whole dozen?  You and I are both smart enough to know that you should keep the eggs and use the other eleven to replace any broken eggs which one could reasonably assume might exist in any of the other cartons… But not most grocery stores. This will probably be a shocker to you, but Walmart got the highest score of a B (partly because of something as simple as our little “eggsercise” a second ago) in a non-biased study of grocery stores’ food waste whereas Costco, Whole Foods and Aldi brought up the rear with scores of D’s and an F. It’s disgusting and sad and from what I hear that it’s a really similar situation within the big hotels and restaurants here on Maui, but I’m really happy to be part of a restaurant that doesn’t contribute to that 40% of the food waste category. 

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Our chickens eat all of our scraps, seeds, peels, Choice Health bar is also kind enough to offer their compost to any farmers who want to pick it up to feed their animals or plants. That’s a great solution that to keeping food waste out of the landfill where it produces methane gas, but it also got us thinking about how we could creatively use some of the stuff we had been composting.  This led us to one of my favorite new foods we are making at Moku Roots… Maui Grown Brownies!  When we make coconut  milk, the fiber that is left over we had been feeding to the chickens, but recently we started using it to make coconut flour! The first use for which was our vegan, gluten free, locally grown coconut flour brownies!  Since, coconut flour has been incorporated into our taro burgers as well as other baked goods.  And to come full circle, I originally dreamt the concept of Maui Tropsicles, the precursor to Moku Roots as a way to save all of the mangos from the trees in my yard.  

So what kinds of foods do you often find yourself throwing out?  Maybe together we can find a creative solution to save food, money and resources and hopefully come up with your new favorite dish in the process!