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Food Waste: Virginia Murphy

In this segment, Virginia Murphy explains how to reduce food waste.
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Welcome back to this teach-out on food sustainability. I’m here with Virginia Murphy again, and we’re going to be talking about food waste. So thanks again for continuing the conversation. » Thank you. » So food waste, we know, across our entire food system is a really large contributor to greenhouse gases. Can you tell us a little bit more about what we know about kind of where the food waste happens and what are the kind of impacts of that food waste? » Yeah, so let me begin with a small story from literature, which is how I teach food waste to my classes.
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There’s a book called The Sand County Almanac written by Aldo Leopold, and within that book is a chapter called The Land Ethic. And essentially, Leopold’s argument is that we should ascribe value to the land for its own sake. And so when I talk about food waste, I begin with this land ethic chapter, and the chapter begins with Odysseus returning from Troy. And for those of us who need a mythology primer, he’s been gone a really long time, and Penelope, his faithful wife, is pursued by many suitors, who she doesn’t want to choose because she believes Odysseus is coming back. So during the day, she’s weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law, who is Laertes.
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And at night, she unweaves it and she tells her suitors that when she is finished with the shroud, she’ll choose one to marry. Well, Odysseus returns in the nick of time, the suitors having been warned by one of her hand maidens that she is tricking them and they’re pressuring her to choose one of them. So Odysseus comes home, he slays all of the handmaidens by hanging, and Leopold says the way that we dispose of personal property is a matter of expediency, as it is then and as it is now, not a matter of right and wrong.
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And the issue that he’s trying to teach us is that in Odysseus’s day, it’s noble to die by the sword, it is not noble to die by hanging. And he is asking us to consider how we dispose of our property. Do we dispose of it unthinkingly ,or do we think about what value the property might have? And I think the same issue exist for food waste. So we have a huge problem in the United States, 42% of what is grown and produced in the United States is wasted, and we have one in six families who are food insecure. Food is wasted on such a level that families spend over $1,500 on groceries that they’ll ultimately throw away.
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And so if we think about this when we’re at the grocery store, we would not be throwing away the food that we’ve just spent $1,500 on. And so I ask my students to think about it that way. » So kind of thinking through where a lot of this waste happens, and kind of what agency individuals have over kind of reducing the amount of food waste they have. What do you tell your students in terms of kind of where is the best place to plug into this? » Yeah, so it’s not just personal food waste.
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When growers pick foods on their land, they ultimately leave between 1 and 15% of that food on the ground, and the reason is that it’s not pretty enough for the consumer to buy. So I suggest that perhaps we should buy some ugly fruit, number one. The other problem is that we leave a lot of it in transportation. Fruit gets spoiled when it’s been moved from one end of the country to another end of the country. So again, I say buy local foods, because the transportation sector is the top sector that contributes to climate change. If we can cut that transportation down on our food product, we are less likely to contribute to climate change.
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And I also say, look, buy less. I know that sounds simplistic, but buy less. Don’t go to the grocery store thinking that you’re going to change your eating habits overnight. If you want to try kale for the first time, great, buy a bunch of kale, but don’t fill your freezer or refrigerator with something that is untried for you. » So sounds like buy less, maybe also grow more. I know you work with the gardens here as well, and how do you kind of work with the students as they’re thinking about food waste in the actual physical space of a garden?
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Yeah, so I do really encourage my students to try growing food, and I would for anyone who’s listening, because it’s not that difficult. And once you put the energy into growing food, even if it’s a small container or herbs, you’re less likely to throw it out when you have to fill a container with soil medium and choose out your seeds and water them. It all becomes very personal to you, and in the garden, we reuse a lot of what would be considered waste, so we turn all of the biomass into a compostable product to be reused in the garden.
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Wonderful, so same question as before, but what is kind of one recommendation that you’d have for learners to decrease their waste related impact? » Compost, I would say compost. 90% of our food waste ends up in landfills, and that’s not a good thing, because decomposing food causes methane, and methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide is. And so compost, your city, your municipality, push them to offer a composting service or find a way that you can compost yourself. It’s simple, it’s something that can change our planetary health. » Wonderful, so gets your hands dirty. » Exactly, yeah.
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All right, well, thank you so much, Virginia, and thank you for joining us in this conversation about food waste, and we look forward to continuing the discussion in the forums.

Food waste, across our entire food system, is also a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and our food-related impact. In this segment, Virginia and Benjamin talk about the issue of food waste and how to overcome it.

Discussion: What are some ways can you reduce your food waste on your own or by working with others in your community?

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Sustainable Food Teach-Out

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