Preventing Food Waste: It may become the law | Civil Eats

Preventing Food Waste: It may become the law

Food waste is everywhere you look (and it’s still there if you choose not to). Farmers decide to leave entire fields unharvested when the prices are unfavorable. Supermarkets toss produce that’s the wrong shape or slightly bruised. Diners leave behind half-eaten entrees. There’s probably wasted food lurking somewhere in your fridge.

Given that our food chain is heavy on long-distance shipping, pretty produce, prepared foods and cautious “sell-by” dates, it’s difficult to make a dent in the problem.

Or is it? Food rescue does not involve men or women in capes, just volunteers dedicated to repurposing food that would otherwise go to waste. The recovered goods—prepared or not—are distributed to those in need.

Food rescue, sometimes called “food recovery,” occurs where waste does—supermarkets, restaurants, school and office cafeterias. These operations set aside the food that is edible but not sellable for food rescue workers to collect. In addition, food recovery groups retrieve excess crops from farms, bulk orders gone awry and excess event food from events and conferences.

Which brings us to Slow Food Nation. There’s good news here: Leftovers from Slow Food Nation events will be recovered by the San Francisco non-profit Food Runners. The group will call on its volunteers to collect items that have been prepared but not served at the opening night dinner on Thursday (8/28) and at the Taste Pavilions, Friday through Sunday.

No discussion of food recovery would be complete without mentioning its obstacles. Potential donors often list fears of lawsuits as the main objection to donating prepared food. What these folks fail to realize is that: 1. The vast majority of food recovery volunteers are trained in food safety. 2. The Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects donors from liability when food is donated in good faith.

We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

That fear of liability means that many hotels and caterers don’t even allow party hosts to take home the food that they bought. As a result, California Senator Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach) introduced a bill this year that would make donations from catered events much easier.

Senate Bill 1443 would require every contract for food service to give purchasers the choice of mandating that the leftovers are donated. Oropeza held a press conference last Friday in Los Angeles at the Venice Center for Peace with Justice and the Arts to promote the bill, which has already passed the California Senate and will soon face a vote in the State Assembly.

“As you can see, and as many have tasted, there is nothing wrong with this food,” Oropeza told those at the event. “Except that millions of tons of edible food like this are thrown away annually in California.”

According to California E.P.A., it’s 6 million tons each year. There’s plenty of room for improvement. How about it, California?

Thank you for being a loyal reader.

We rely on you. Become a member today to read unlimited stories.

Jonathan Bloom is a journalist, blogger, and the author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food. You can find him on Twitter @wastedfood. Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

  1. This is a great idea - so much is thrown away, I used to be able to live quite comfortably on loaves of day-old bread, day-old pastries, and pizzas that were leftover after shift changes just by opening the dumpster. All from very upscale places, too.

    Nowadays, I usually have my leftovers from a restaurant boxed, and sometimes I pass them on to someone asking for change (unless I reeaally want to eat the rest later).
  2. adrean
    Great article! Our family lives in Benicia, and because we have a large family (6 children) with little ones always wasting, we decided to invest in live stock. We bought 10 chicks in the spring, and they are now our perfect food recyclers. They eat all of our scraps as well as any produce that should "go bad" before we get to it, I have to say that Costco has been notorius, selling produce that goes bad VERY quickly, so now we make our way to Suisun to Larry's produce about every 10 or so days. An added bonus is that they will be laying perfectly healthy eggs for us soon. They are also very fun to watch, we let them out during the day and they have free run of our yard, I didn't know chickens were so social. I have an agreement with a local store and they set aside all the produce they "pull from the shelves" twice a week and the "girls" love it. We are a nation of waste, and even making small changes brings upon awareness of just how wastefull we really are. Thank you for the article, I can't wait for the festivities.
  3. Jessica Campbell
    Thank you Jonathan for not only thinking this way but to share publicly and finally to be a part of Slow Food Nation's waste recovery. I am a firm member of the clean plate club, my secret is simple, make a smaller plate and eat the rest later. I base all of my recipes on the produce I picked up from the farmer's market and their expiration. When the week is nearly ending, I open the fridge and make a concoction of everything that needs to be eaten. My mom has always disapproved of my starting to wilt lettuce that I simply saute in order to be rightfully called wilted. I love to turn leftovers into another dinner by adding fresh vegies or fruit. I think there can be a lot to learn here, especially when so many Americans have science experiments in the back of fridges and it all piles up in the garbage can while others go hungry. Thanks for turning the light on a national problem with an easy solution.
  4. Wendy in Berkeley
    Good information to know! Thank you for putting this together these points here. Also I was hoping you would touch upon food scraps for composting (after the food-recovery/food banks make use of what they need first)! I understand that the SFN event will compost food scraps, but I was hoping you'd expand upon it because there are a lot of people out there who are familiar with the impact of compost. If you think about it, compost brings the whole idea full circle. It helps us build back soils that become depleted through farming while reducing the food waste that would otherwise end up in landfills. Several restaurants in SF and the East Bay are part of a food scrap composting program. The city of Berkeley has implemented a food waste recycling program where we can dispose of our food waste along with our yard waste. The bin is picked up weekly (the city made the additional effort of increasing this "green waste" pickup from twice a week to once a week, understanding that rotting food would be unpleasant for two weeks, even in a closed bin).This green waste is composted down to crumbly, beautiful, nourishing amendments that get added to soil by gardeners and farmers. City resident get access to free compost from the city for our home vegetable gardens...compost that started as food scraps from our kitchens. In addition, while the good people who are doing food recovery can only use the edible parts, the compost bin can take the corn husk/silk, banana peels and apple cores, egg shells and potato peels and all other food discards. It can be tough to handle this on such a large scale, but I hope that this event sets a great composting example for future events and becomes standard in waste reduction.
  5. PigsAreGreat
    My dad drove a collection route loading up "swill" (uneaten food) from San Francisco hotels, convention centers, restaurants each morning before going to high school in the 50's. It was fed to hogs raised over in "butcher town" San Francisco. Today, there are MORE institutions throwing away MORE food than ever.. unfortunately, most of it goes doen the garbage disposal... that's progress for you.
  6. There will always be wasted food. No system is perfect. The cause to prevent some of this waste is definitely worthwhile but it should also be paralleled by an effort to get people and communities to dispose of organic and food waste in a good way.

  7. Pamela
    Are you aware that it is estimated that 18.7% of the Worlds energy is used by refrigeration.
    In today’s world we take for granted the refrigerator cooling our groceries 24/7 and when we turn off the lights in our homes and businesses, and lock the door for the evening, one of the things which will continue to use power around the clock is our refrigerators and freezers.
    New energy saving technologies, are being launched every day, but who can afford some of these technologies which we are being offered, or how difficult are they to install. And how long will it take for me to get my money back in energy savings, big questions.
    Refrigeratorsaver is the simplest, most effective, and inexpensive energy saving device for refrigeration.
    Invented in the UK by two highly recognized Harry Banham & Guy Lamstaes, who have both recent been listed in the Guardian Observer in the top (50) people who could save the planet,
    The Refrigeratorsaver is a silicone gel based thermometer that reads the exact product temperature rather than the air temperature, most refrigerators cool produce colder than needed, and on many home refrigerators we cannot see what the produce temperature, only the reading only the air temperature reading.
    This technology which won a millennium award, has no installation, you simply place the Refrigeratorsaver on the shelf, leave for (1) hour, and then you can make slight adjustments on the dial thermostat dial, or digital display in line with the product temperature.
    For every one degree you are able to adjust your home or business thermostat is the equivalent to 8% in energy savings, and we have averaged 20 to 24% on most home refrigerators.
    We have also found that by cooling produce at the right temperature, produce life extends by 2 to 3 days and with gas prices rising, many businesses are feeling the pinch with fuel charges being added to deliveries, this simple device makes huge saving on any businesses bottom line.
    The Refrigeratorsaver is a must for all restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels, hospitals, schools, colleges, universities, and especially homes,
  8. It sickens me that so much food is thrown out by big grocery stores. I live in the UK and recently saw a TV programme in which people calling themselves 'freegans' (google it!) dumpster dive and can live of the food that is disposed of.

    A few monthas later I bought my newspaper to here than the largest grocery stores in UK have now decided to start keeping there bins in fenced compounds and locking them.

    That bill, should it pass needs to be introduced on our side of the pond!!

More from

Food Waste



Senator Cory Booker Says FDA Proposal Could Worsen Antibiotic Resistance

A farmworker feeds cows in a barn.

Are Companies Using Carbon Markets to Sell More Pesticides?

a tractor sprays pesticides on a field while hazard symbols fade into the distance. (Civil Eats illustration)

In Brazil, a Powerful Law Protects Biodiversity and Blocks Corporate Piracy

An overhead shot of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. (Photo credit: FG Trade, Getty Images)

Bringing Back Local Milk, Ice Cream, and Cheese

Foggy Bottoms Boys co-owner Cody Nicholson-Stratton pictured with his son. (Photo courtesy of Foggy Bottoms Boys)