Food Wasteland Part Two: Remains of the Day

In Part One of this story, in the February issue of Fort Worth, Texas magazine we took a look at how larger entities such as restaurants, supermarkets, hospitals, schools and produce dealers contribute to the food waste dilemma. We talked to North Texas restaurant owners and a grocery store owner about creative ways in which they work to decrease waste.

Local sustainability advocates and food bank program leaders spoke out in the first feature about ways they are partnering with organizations and grocery stores to redistribute otherwise wasted food to feed the nearly 300,000 people in this city that live in food insecure households.

Part Two of this story looks mainly at how individuals in North Texas can make simple choices at home, in the supermarket and at restaurants to ensure less food is wasted. We also discover initiatives being pursued by a collaborative team of the Tarrant County Food Policy Council, the city of Fort Worth and a diverse group of community partners, such as the Blue Zones Project, to alleviate waste and facilitate those in Fort Worth with food deficits.

Customer Behavior

Previously we looked at what restaurant owners could do to alleviate food waste, but there are things that diners can do as well.

Upon visiting an eatery for the first time, guests should take the opportunity to look around them at portion sizes before ordering. Because a majority of U.S. restaurants have oversized meals, make the decision to split a dish. Also, there is no shame in leaving with a to-go bag. A dinner could potentially act as tomorrow’s lunch.

Don’t order what you know you won’t eat. For instance, if you know that you and your dining companions won’t eat the complimentary bread or chips, request that it not be brought to the table. If you don’t necessarily care for the sides, ordering items specifically from the à la carte menu may be another way to reduce food waste.

At the market, one of the biggest contributing factors to food waste has to do with buying too much food. A few simple behavior modifications such as going to the grocery store more often and buying less food each time, planning meals ahead of time and making a grocery list, can improve food efficiency.

When purchasing items for meals, buy only what you need. If a recipe calls for three potatoes, there is no need to buy a whole bag. Buying loose is the best bet.

Home Surveillance

To fix the problem within your home, it is important to pinpoint the cause. This can be done by tracking wasted groceries over a few weeks and seeing exactly how much food (and money) is being thrown away. Keep food receipts and use a tracking sheet like the one here.

Once a household realizes how much food is being wasted, it becomes easier to begin making changes. Many tips and tricks exist for making food last longer. Storing greens in an airtight container with a set paper towel can extend their life by a few weeks. Knowing how to store fresh fruits and vegetables can also make a major difference in ensuring food doesn’t go bad before using it. (See American Heart Association infographic below.) If you don’t think you will be able to use certain fruits and vegetables, consider freezing, preserving or canning them so they can be used at a later date.

After produce has moved past its prime, it may still be OK for cooking. Try to incorporate these items into casseroles, soups, baked goods or smoothies. Repurposing items such as stale bread to make croutons or vegetable scraps to make stock is another creative way to decrease waste.

Not understanding food packaging labels leads to a lot of perfectly edible food being tossed in many homes. Consumers need to educate themselves on the difference between “sell-by,” “use-by,” “best-by,” and expiration dates. See here.

Other solutions for excess food include donating to a local food bank or charity and creating a compost pile in the backyard. (See below on creating a compost pile.)

Food Connections

Late last year, the Blue Zones Project hosted an Equitable Food Summit. Along with other organizations such as the Tarrant Area Food Bank, Tarrant County Public Health and local grocery store representatives, a number of innovative solutions were discussed for addressing healthy food access. These efforts have led to an outpouring of support and engagement from local employers, restaurants, grocery stores, faith communities, schools, neighborhood groups and individuals within the community. These are currently some of the avenues being explored to aid in the issue.

For neighborhoods that do not have full-service supermarkets, produce carts, which are privately owned and operated, self-propelled pushcarts, serve as a way to expand access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Blue Zones Project is working with the city to amend policies to make sure that permit fees are affordable for produce cart vendors, which would encourage local entrepreneurs to explore this opportunity.
The food truck craze is still alive. Mobile Fresh Markets are similar to food trucks, except that they focus on providing whole fruits and vegetables instead of prepared food. Blue Zones Project, along with city staff, is working to amend the existing food truck ordinance to allow Mobile Fresh Markets to operate in urban areas.
Blue Zones Project is interested in locating corner stores to participate in a Healthy Corner Store pilot program. The plan is to stock fresh produce and other healthy food options in corner stores to present an exciting opportunity to expand access to healthy foods for residents in food deserts, especially children.

In the Zone

Fort Worth Blue Zones Project’s Public Affairs Coordinator Brenda Patton and Public Affairs Manager Brandy O’Quinn share ways in which the organization is working to make food available to those in the city who need it.

Is the Blue Zones Project putting any focus on reducing food waste in Fort Worth?

Blue Zones Project is focused on increasing access to fresh produce and other affordable, healthy food options in order to make the healthy choice an easy choice for all members of our community. Like most communities, Fort Worth has populations that live in food deserts without adequate access to healthy food options. Working with the city of Fort Worth and other community partners, Blue Zones Project is helping create innovative solutions -- such as reducing food waste – to make healthy foods more accessible.

Have there been conversations with local grocery stores with which you have a relationship?

Yes, through our work with grocery stores interested in becoming Blue Zones Approved, several attended the Equitable Food Summit and are interested in being a part of the discussion.

What does a restaurant or grocery have to do to be qualified as Blue Zones approved?

Restaurants achieve Blue Zones Project Approved status by completing the Blue Zones Project Restaurant Pledge and adopting or supporting a number of best practices from a menu of options. For example, a restaurant may choose to serve bread only when it is requested or offer half-sized portions of popular dishes to customers. Restaurants play a key role in Blue Zones Project as customers are increasingly seeking healthy options when eating out. Grocery stores achieve Blue Zones Project Approved status by completing the Blue Zones Project Grocery Store Pledge and adopting or supporting a selection of best practices from a menu of options. This might include such things as providing separate, candy-free checkout lanes where shoppers can find healthier impulse items such as fruit and water, designating Blue Zones parking spaces further away from the entrance to encourage walking and providing healthy recipes and the Blue Zones Food List around the stores.  

Composting 101

Build a Bin: It’s possible to compost successfully in a pile on the ground, but a bin will keep the whole process more confined and discourage animal visitors. Regulation of moisture and temperature is also easier with a bin.
• Find a Balance: In order to activate the heat process in the compost, incorporate items such as manure, grass cuttings and other green items such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and tea bags. Other items high in carbon provide the “fiber” for the compost pile. Old flowers, dead plants and hay are perfect examples. Eggshells, paper towels and bags and even hair can be included in moderation.
• Temperature and Moisture: Keep the pile damp as a wrung-out sponge. Adding a lid to the bin might help keep in the moisture, but be careful because the pile needs air. If you feel the compost pile with your hand and it’s warm, then everything is as it should be. Add water or wet green material if the pile is too dry and brown material if the pile is too wet.
A Good Turn: Clear a spot next to the pile or bin, and use a pitchfork to move the pile once every week or two. This encourages aerobic decomposition by allowing airflow inside the pile. Move matter from inside to outside and from top to bottom.
• Timing Is Everything: A compost pile could be ready in three months with frequent turning. Activity slows in the winter, so it’s recommended to stop turning in November to keep heat from escaping. In summer months, the warmer temps encourage bacterial activity and the process is quicker.
• Don’t Do This: Never compost the following items due to inability to break down: meat scraps, bones, plastic or synthetic fibers, pet (carnivore or omnivore) or human feces, disposable diapers or cat litter. Also avoid composting bread, pasta and cooked food because they don’t break down easily and can hold up the composting process.
• Reap the Reward: If everything goes as it should, remove the bottom layer of the bin and spread/mix it into garden beds.

Where to Donate

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are several local organizations that are desperate for food donations.

Tarrant Area Food Bank
2525 Cullen St.

Community Food Bank
3000 Galvez Ave.

7940 Camp Bowie Blvd.

North Texas Food Bank
4500 S. Cockrell Hill Road