This week, several members of The Women’s Foundation staff are participating in the Food Stamp Challenge, an exercise organized by D.C. Hunger Solutions that educates the public and raises awareness of the benefits of food stamps and the challenges recipients face while eating on a very limited budget. The staff will be sharing their experiences on this blog.
Entering day three of the Food Stamp (SNAP) Challenge, and I find myself acutely aware of two things: food and waste.
It has become clear to me that in general I buy more food than needed for my family; I cook more food than we eat; and we eat more food than we really need to. Why? Because I have the luxury to do so. On any given day, I can walk into Whole Foods (one of the most expensive organic grocery stores in the area) and without even thinking twice, I can buy whatever food items I want for my family. The result is that I often over-buy. The plums look particularly good that day, so I buy some. Were they on my list? No. Did we need them? No. Could we have done with the bunch of bananas and a few apples? Yes.
And every week before I go grocery shopping for the next week, I always check my refrigerator. Most weeks, I’m throwing something away—leftovers that sit untouched or fruit or vegetables that haven’t been eaten. Either way it’s wasteful, and I cringe to think about the amount of food that is wasted in our house on a weekly basis. Why? Because we have the luxury to do so.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post ran a story about how Montgomery County plans to redistribute unused food to those in need. According to the article, “Supermarkets, restaurants and other nonresidential establishments in Montgomery County throw away 96 million pounds of food a year.” Imagine—96 million pounds of food a year, and that’s just in Montgomery County! The planned food recycling program is modeled after the Food Recovery Network, a student group at the University of Maryland that collects unused food from the university and donates it to food banks and homeless shelters. To date, they’ve recovered and donated over 30,000 meals.
So as I sat at the dinner table last night watching my nine-year-old daughter pick the crust off her bread because she “doesn’t like the crust,” I was again acutely aware of food and waste and the stark differences in the realities of our region’s families. While my daughter was picking the crust off her bread, there were thousands of kids who were hungry and would have given anything to have her grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, crust and all.
Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is vice president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.