TRENTON – Locally and nationally food waste causes damage to the environment and the economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) reports, “The United States wastes around 40% of the food it produces which costs, $160 billion annually. In addition, food waste releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. When food is thrown out, it ends up buried in landfills and eventually decomposes under anaerobic conditions (without oxygen present). Methane-producing bacteria drive this anaerobic decomposition, unlike decomposition in nature, creating and releasing methane. Methane gas traps heat 25% more effectively than carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming. Our local community is actively fighting food waste.
I visited the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen or T.A.S.K. to talk about food waste in the city. I met with J. Steinhauer, Development Manager, and Paul Jensen, Food Services and Facilities. Food waste is a major concern to them as well, and it is the only place in Mercer County where hungry people can eat. “Our goal is to always be able to feed more people,” said J Steinhauer. “It’s called a soup kitchen, and at one time we were just serving soup, but thanks to all of the donations we receive, we now serve restaurant quality food. Most of the food donations would have been wasted, but we turn it into good food to be eaten,” said Jensen.
According to both Jensen and Steinhauer, “It all starts with the farmers or “growers,” who produce the food. Then purchasers like the U.S.D.A. buy first from the producers. These purchasers sell the food to other, smaller buyers, and then give any food that’s not sold to regional food banks for free. This really decreases the odds of unsold food becoming wasted. The food banks then give away and also sell food to local food assistance programs, who directly feed hungry people in need.
Jensen also told me that local food stores like Shoprite, Stop & Shop and Whole Foods also donate food items to T.A.S.K. These establishments give food that is close to its “Sell by date.” It’s still good food but the stores usually don’t sell it, so they give it away, while it’s still usable. The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen uses it immediately and turns it into a food medley. They also give away take home bags of food to kids everyday, so they can eat healthy meals in school and at home. This service also ensures that more food is not wasted.
Everything the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen does to feed people also has food waste prevention in mind. They feed as many people as possible, with nutritious, high calorie meals, while maximizing food usage and minimizing food waste. They stretch their budgets to make a lot of things happen to help hungry people and the environment as well, by being mindful and very resourceful in not wasting food.
This story was produced in collaboration with the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting Hub project. It was originally reported by Kelly Ramos for The Nubian News, and may be re-distributed through the Creative Commons License, with attribution.