Make Haste Don’t Waste
An Interview with Jonathan Bloom
Jonathan Bloom is a journalist who has been researching and writing about food waste since 2005 after having served as a volunteer at DC Kitchens, a homeless shelter in Washington, DC that rescues unused food from restaurants and supermarkets. There, Mr. Bloom witnessed firsthand how much food goes to waste. He is the author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and what we can do about it ).
Leket Israel had the opportunity to speak with Jonathan Bloom to learn more about his work in preventing food waste, the challenges we as a society face and how we can all make changes to minimize the problem .
Leket Israel: Please describe the evolution of food waste ?
Jonathan Bloom: Today, more than 40% of all food manufactured is going to waste. At one time, there was no waste. People in the United States used all of their scraps by feeding them to their goats, chickens and livestock. As people began to move into cities, they had to get rid of their livestock as it was unsanitary and soon a solution became a problem. By the turn of the century, wet waste was collected and bunched together in landfills. In the 1940s-1950s, landfills began to become “more sanitary” as a layer of dirt was dumped on the pile daily. However, it never actually became sanitary due to the methane emissions .
LI: What are the largest sources of food waste ?
JB: a. Farms – The agricultural waste is often plowed back into the soil, which at least acts as a fertilizer.
b. Households – The waste people create in their homes is more damaging to the environment. When we toss unused food, 90% of it ends up in landfills and only about 3% is composted or recycled.
LI: What is really happening in agriculture ?
JB: Farmers are making decisions based on market prices and aesthetics. In addition, they suffer from economic forces that are out of their control .
LI: What do you see as a solution to this problem ?
JB: We as a society need to make social changes, where shape and appearance are not as important as taste. The age old saying “It doesn’t quite look right” needs to be removed from the vernacular and farmers should be encouraged to harvest all that they plant and if they can’t sell it all, they need to be offered tax deductions and financial incentives to donate it. There are so many fields in the U.S. and other places around the world not being harvested .
LI: Please comment on the UN’s Environment Programme’s release that more than ½ of the food wasted in the U.S., Europe and most of the developed world happens at the consumption stage. Were you surprised to learn that ?
JB: We are complicit in food waste but we have a role to play to reduce waste and if we all chip in, that will have a ripple effect throughout that society .
LI: What can be done to prevent food waste ?
JB: Steer food waste to feed livestock, compost or create energy. Right now, composting is perceived of as an inconvenience and both businesses and households suffer from inertia. It’s getting past the barrier of not wanting to change and we need to get past that any way we can.
LI: Are we buying too much food ?
JB: The main drivers of waste are abundance, aesthetics and low cost. In the U.S. food is inexpensive; it’s less than 10% of household spending .
LI: Can you comment on the obesity crisis ?
JB: More than 1/3 of people in the U.S. are overweight or obese. There is a broken food chain in America and the same holds true for most of the developed world .
LI: The poorer you are, the higher your chances of being obese according to a study conducted by Ben Gurion University. What is causing this growing problem ?
JB: There are two root causes:
The food system steers people to empty calories and cheaper foods are higher in sugar and fat content. These are foods that poorer people can afford so there’s a direct correlation between income and obesity .
People are less active than they once were and a more sedentary lifestyle leads to weight gain .
In addition, in the U.S., access to fresh food is limited. Poorer neighborhoods have local convenience stores that don’t carry fresh food. People also have less time to cook or have never actually learnt how to cook .
LI: What is the parent’s role in all of this ?
JB: People just don’t know what the healthier foods are. They consider foods like lentils and other legumes unusual, exotic and culturally on the outside. When macaroni and cheese used to be prepared from scratch it was ok but today when it comes in a box, it is filled with additives. We have seen a subtle shift from generation to generation .
LI: How do you view the situation in Israel ?
JB: Israel is an agriculturally dense nation. It is a small country that grows so much food and can almost be 100% self sufficient. There is no long distance food chain as exists in the U.S.
LI: What do you think of the work Leket Israel is doing ?
JB: I view food recovery as alchemists, converting what would be waste into a source of sustenance for those in need. The work Leket Israel is doing is very commendable; avoiding waste and feeding people at the same time. Whenever I come across an organization such as Leket Israel, I want to tell people about their work and hope that more people will follow their lead .
LI: What about the Leket/Gleaning initiative specifically ?
JB: The work itself is an advertisement for waste and hunger. When you put sweat and effort into a project, the volunteers become invested .
LI: Do you know of any other program in the U.S. similar to Leket Israel’s gleaning initiative that employs 32 Arab Israeli women ?
JB: I really don’t. I know of job training employment in certain states but it’s wonderful that you are creating jobs and this program addresses this head on. I’m so glad to see this kind of inter-ethnic cooperation and hunger relief .
LI: Anything else you would like to add ?
JB: The world is starting to pay attention to the issue of food waste. One can see this through the birth of World Environment Day which increases awareness. The UN through the Environment Programme and the FAO are focusing on reducing waste as a way to chip away at hunger and be better environmental stewards. Fellow citizens around the globe are starting to do that .
The Israel Perspective: What is the situation in Israel?
According to Professor Ofira Ayalon, Director of Natural Resource and Environmental Research Center at the University of Haifa, there is a vast difference between waste in the U.S. and in Israel. The waste in Israel is primarily made up of fresh food, no less than 40%. In the U.S. on the other hand, a lot of the waste is comprised of processed food. Professor Ayalon agrees with Mr. Bloom that people need to think more about how they can reuse leftovers to create new dishes.
Leket Israel together with the Samuel Neaman Institute of the Technion and the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Management of the University of Haifa, under the supervision of Prof. Ofira Ayalon and Dr. Tzipi Eshet, have undertaken an academic research project to measure waste, specifically throughout the Israeli agricultural landscape and how it compares to other countries. The results will raise awareness on the issue of food insecurity and will impact future strategic initiatives.
Jonathan Bloom’s top tips for reducing waste in your household:
Shop smarter – People buy too much. An easy solution would be to make frequent and small shopping trips. However, if you only shop once a week, plan your meals in advance and create a detailed shopping list to avoid overbuying.
Be wise on portion size – When eating at home, avoid taking too much food on your plate. You can always take more, if you want.
Save and eat leftovers – Don’t just put them in your refrigerator, actually take them out and use them.
Befriend the freezer – Use your freezer to avoid waste. If you prepared a casserole but are not going to use it all, save half for a later date.
Do not feel threatened by expiration dates – These dates are not the ultimate arbiter and are meant as a guideline. Trust your senses and not the date.
Share your food with friends and neighbors – If you have grown more than you need in your garden, invite people in to take what you don’t need.
To view the article as a pdf, please visit:https://www.leket.org.il/english/Files/Editor/Documents/Jonathan%20Bloom.pdf