Up to 40 percent of all food in the U.S. is thrown away. Every single day, Americans toss out enough food to fill the Titans’ stadium. About 20 percent of all waste in this country’s landfills is food.
And the wasteful part isn’t just the perfectly good food going unused. Every time we toss those leftovers, every time stale bagels from a craft-services table get thrown out, we’re also wasting the natural resources (such as fresh water and crop land) used to produce that food. When organic matter is put into a landfill, it produces methane gas — because oxygen isn’t reaching the organic material, it goes through anaerobic decomposition. And methane is a greenhouse gas.
What’s more, we’re wasting cash. The average family of four throws away about $1,800 in edible food annually. That’s the equivalent of walking into Kroger, buying five bags of groceries and dropping two in the parking lot as you leave, explains Linda Breggin, an environmental lawyer and project coordinator for the Nashville Food Waste Initiative.
OK, so all that waste is bad. But here’s what makes it worse: At least 1 in 8 people in the U.S. is food insecure, meaning they don’t have access to enough to eat due to lack of resources at some point during the year, according to the USDA. Some estimates put the number as high as 1 in 6. In Davidson County, about 100,000 people are food insecure, 25,000 of whom are children, Breggin says.
“If we could reduce food waste in our country, we could feed all food insecure people,” explains Breggin. She cites a Natural Resources Defense Council report called “Wasted” that found that “one-third of the food we throw out would be enough to feed this population completely.”
In 2015 the NRDC was looking into “testing some theories on ways that cities could address food waste,” says Darby Hoover, a senior resource specialist with the NRDC. “We looked at Nashville as a way to pilot that research. It was perfect to us as a mid-sized city in the middle of the country.” San Francisco and New York are not necessarily seen as model cities for the rest of the country, because they are so large and progressive. “Nashville is a city that others could relate to,” says Hoover. Research from the 2012 “Wasted” report, which was updated again in 2017, demonstrates the far-reaching impact of food waste and food rescue.
Along with the NRDC pilot program, Music City developed a number of cooperative programs — for businesses, schools and individuals — through a number of complementary agencies tied with a common, albeit ambitious, goal: to get Nashville to become a zero-waste city. The idea was to address the interconnected problems of food waste and hunger through a variety of initiatives, including waste reduction through education; donations to the hungry; composting what cannot be donated; other recycling (such as cooking oil); and, of course, systems to assess progress.
The Mayor’s Food Saver Challenge was first launched as a pilot in 2017 under then-Mayor Megan Barry, and was relaunched by Mayor David Briley in November 2018. The program works with restaurants, hotels and other commercial hospitality sites to reduce the amount of excess food they prepare, donate the food they don’t use, and compost what can’t be donated.