Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) joined with a coalition of non-profit and faith-based organizations, food companies and local government to set the nation’s first #foodwaste reduction goals. It calls for broad-based participation to achieve a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030. Allison Aubrey has written a terrific piece about the feds’ announcement for NPR’s The Salt. The Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins provided an incredibly interesting piece about what restaurants can teach us about reducing food waste (author: Jessica Wapner).
Consensus about the food waste reduction goal: it is a great thing.
One of those whose commentary I looked to was Jonathan Bloom. He has researched food waste for a solid decade and has written extensively on the topic. Bloom is the author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It). Like others, Bloom found much to like in the announcement, but points out that there are “no real plans or penalties.”
Here’s a Tweet he sent:
My quick haiku hot take on the national #foodwaste reduction goal: Broad coalition A noble, ambitious goal But where are the teeth?
— Jonathan Bloom (@WastedFood) September 16, 2015
And of course, he’s right. The food industry has a mixed track record on voluntary measures. Will it happen?
Here’s my take on food waste. It goes back in part to lessons I’ve learned from studying World War I (WWI), when the American government set food conservation goals (along with goals for local food production via Liberty – later Victory – Gardens). I’m a big proponent of both reducing food waste and producing more food in communities via school, home and community gardens. (I’ve included some related gardening links at the end of this article). Big point: the World War I poster included in this post has advice we’d be well served to heed today.
“Food waste is both an ethical and environmental issue. It should concern us that we waste nearly 40% of the food we produce and purchase in this food-abundant nation.
For an interesting comparative statistic, consider this: our nation produced nearly 40% of the fruits and vegetables we consumed on the American home front during World War II in school, home, community and workplace gardens.”
Period piece or photoshopped image?
It’s an iconic poster from World War 1. Food…don’t waste it. The image is regularly shared on Twitter and Facebook.
The original was produced in 1919 by the United States Food Administration, under the direction of the newly appointed food “czar” – Herbert Hoover.
The poster was reissued during World War II. It’s been revised in recent years, by individuals and organizations interested in encouraging an ethos incorporating local foods and sustainability.
While I’m the UC Food Observer, I also dabble in the history of wartime poster art. I’m often asked if this is a contemporary mock-up made to look and feel vintage.
It’s not a mock-up. It’s the real deal, produced 95 years ago, with messages we should embrace today.
History of poster art
The First World War marked the first large-scale use of propaganda posters by governments. Posters, with easy-to-understand slogans and compelling images, made powerful propaganda tools. The government needed to shape public opinion, recruit soldiers, raise funds and conserve resources and mobilize citizens to important home front activities…including gardening, food conservation and food preservation. In an era before television and widespread radio and movies, posters were a form of mass media. And they appeared in windows and were posted on walls everywhere, in as many languages as were spoken in this nation of immigrants.
If you want to dig a little deeper, the poster art of WWI was influenced by the La Belle Epoque – the beautiful era – named in retrospect, after the full horror of WWI had been revealed. The Art Nouveau movement in France and the rise of modern advertising were also important in shaping how posters were used during wartime. Technical improvements in printing, including a process called chromolithography, facilitated mass production of posters.
The original poster: Yes: ‘buy local foods’ is rule 4
The original poster has six rules that we’d be well served to follow today. The fourth rule – buy local foods – is somewhat of a surprise to people today, because the notion of buying local seems somewhat modern. But in WWI, the U.S. government encouraged the local production and consumption of food, in part, to free trains to more effectively ship troops and war materiel.
Tackling food waste through preservation: today’s Master Food Preserver Program
Many land grant institutions, including the University of California, host master food preserver programs. These programs teach best practices on food safety and preservation to volunteers. The extensive training program prepares the volunteers to work in their community educating others on the safe practices of food preservation, including pickling, drying, freezing, canning and fruit preserves.
Thinking about gardening? Do we have resources for you!
The University of California sponsors the state’s Master Gardener Program, which fields more than 5,000 volunteers in communities across the state. The Master Gardener Program is a national program, housed at the land grant institution in each state, but it’s also connected to the USDA. Free gardening resources are available here. Advice to grow by…just ask.
Food waste is both an ethical and environmental issue. It should concern us that we waste nearly 40% of the food we produce and purchase in this food-abundant nation. For an interesting comparative statistic, consider this: our nation produced about 40% of the fruits and vegetables we consumed on the American home front in World War II in school, home, community and workplace gardens. That was the result of the iconic Victory Garden program (which actually got its start in WW1).
Three messages then: participate in the national effort, commit to wasting less food, and if you can, produce some food of your own.