Food Insecurity and Food Waste: A Review of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health
On September 28, 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration held the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. As Food Finders’ new Outreach and Advocacy intern, I have been asked to review the conference, which is the first of its kind in over 50 years. The goal of the conference is to end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity in order to reduce diet-related diseases in Americans by 2030. The Biden-Harris administration announced that they had received over $8 billion in private- and public-sector commitments. There are over 20 partners, including AARP, Chobani, Doordash, Google, and the University of California System. Each group pledges to create programs that address food-insecure vulnerable populations by improving access to nutrition programs in the United States.
The areas I will cover in the post are:
- the five pillars identified in the National Strategy,
- how the pillars relate to Food Finders’ mission, and
- what is missing from the strategy.
[Photo 1: President Joe Biden speaks during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health on Sept. 28, 2022, Link]
“Together, we can build a healthier future for all Americans” – President Joe Biden
The Five Pillars of the National Strategy
The National Strategy identified five hefty pillars to address hunger, nutrition, and health:
- Improve food access and affordability.
- Integrate nutrition and health.
- Empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices.
- Support physical activity for all.
- Enhance nutrition and food security research.
Each pillar aims to address issues that plague our communities and promote healthier lifestyles for children and families through improving access to healthy foods, safe locations for physical activity, and nutrition and health education. The fifth pillar, which focuses on food security research, encompasses all the pillars. Increasing research in these areas would allow organizations to understand just how current and new programs and implementations are impacting the issue of food insecurity.
[Photo 2: Impacts of Food Insecurity from the White House National Strategy (page 6) Link]
Pillar 1 and Food Finders
While each pillar is important, Pillar 1 aligns the most with Food Finders’ current mission, which is to eliminate hunger and food waste and improve nutrition in food-insecure communities. The first pillar aims to reduce hunger and increase access to healthy meals for everyone first by “helping all Americans become economically secure” through the expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit and increasing the minimum wage (p. 8). Increasing the incomes of households is an incredibly important step toward increasing access to healthy foods. While this pillar focuses on the economic side of food insecurity, Food Finders works to get food directly to those who need it. Food Finders has several programs, such as the Food Rescue Program, Food4Kids, and community Food Hubs. The organization coordinates daily pick-ups of surplus food from grocers, schools, and restaurants through each program. It distributes the food directly to pantries, shelters, youth programs, and senior centers for either hot meals or grocery distribution. Overall, their goal is to keep food from going to waste and divert it to adults, families, and children who need it the most.
Panels on the pillars
The White House held ten panels on the National Strategy Pillars. Each pillar had two panels, and the agenda for each panel and its corresponding YouTube link can be found here. The first panel for Pillar 1 is “Nourishing Brighter Futures: Ensuring affordable food for all children and families.” This panel features several experts discussing the common barriers to food access, such as the stigma around food insecurity and inadequate wages. The discussion emphasizes the importance of nutrition education for children and improving children’s access to food at home for families and at school.
[Photo 3: Panel 1A Mike Curtin, Jr. moderates a conversation with Shavana Howard, Donna Martin, Mark Ramos, and Shannon Razsadin, YouTube]
What is Missing From the Strategy?: The Importance of Food Waste
Despite the enormous negative impact of food waste on the environment, the White House National Strategy dedicates only five bullet points to address food recovery. When uneaten food piles up at the landfill, the decomposition process releases huge amounts of methane gas, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Wasting food also wastes freshwater, cropland, and fertilizer, not to mention the time and effort put into planting and harvesting the crops by farmers and agricultural workers.
[Photo 4: Environmental Impact of Food that is Produced But Never Eaten, ReFED]
The Strategy cites the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as leading resources for preventing food loss and waste. But it does not mention food surpluses due to overproduction or the efforts of local community organizations to allocate food to the right places. The document also ensures that the Department of the Treasury will “clarify the enhanced charitable deduction calculation to support businesses donating food”. Still, it does not mention the need to support farmers to harvest unprofitable crops due to cosmetic reasons (p. 14). The State of Pennsylvania has a program that does this. Later, in the Call to Action, the Administration asks to state, local, and territory governments to “enact food waste reduction and recovery policies such as providing tax incentives to food donors” (p. 16).
According to ReFED, 40% of all food is not eaten, while over 50 million Americans remain food insecure. To Food Finders, the issue and solution are obvious, and the organization combines both of these problems to promote a mission that prioritizes sustainability over consumerism and overproduction. In 2021 alone, Food Finders rescued 7.2 billion gallons of water, 8.6 million pounds of CO2 emissions, and provided 13.2 million meals to Southern Californians. This year the organization expects to surpass those numbers.
Although the National Strategy is far-reaching in its mission to increase access to healthy foods for Americans, it fails to adequately highlight the need to reduce food waste and its subsequent detrimental impacts on our environment. It also fails to highlight the connection between reducing food insecurity through reducing food waste. While governmental organizations are pushing for change, it would have been very powerful for the White House to give more attention to this aspect of the hunger issue. However, this slight oversight only fortifies Food Finders’ determination to increase the visibility of their efforts on a local and regional level and the efforts of other anti-food waste organizations in the United States.
What Can You Do To Help?
Food Finders works daily to change how food waste is distributed to eliminate hunger and food insecurity. If you would like more information, please visit our website, volunteer, or help our operations by making a donation.
#Hunger #Nutrition #Health #WhiteHouse #FoodFinders