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Food Insecurity And Waste During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Spoon University logo Spoon University 5/19/2020 Sarah Ampalloor

In the US, 37.2 million people live in food-insecure households, which means they are unable to buy healthy, nutritious food. In contrast, 80 billion pounds of food, almost 40% of the food supply, go straight to the trash. This is a a glaring flaw in our food system. Now, with current quarantine measures, both food insecurity and waste are expanding. Millions more are unemployed and unable to access resources. Food waste is even greater as farmers' harvests can't be routed to usual businesses and have to be thrown out. We are in a crisis where health is the most important thing, but millions of people have limited access to nutritious food—a fundamental human right. 

a close up of food: Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash © Unsplash on unsplash Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

What is Being Done?

Fortunately, there are many people and organizations doing their part to fight food insecurity and support those who need it.

- Food banks are now having drive-through and walk-through services in order to minimize face-to-face contact. Here you can find your local food bank.

- Many schools are still able to provide school lunches to children who need it.

- SNAP eligibility doesn't require work hours right now, and current benefits may increase if needed. There are also other SNAP changes applied like the Pandemic EBT for children who would receive school lunches. Here is how to apply.

- Many local soup kitchens are providing grab-and-go style meals while volunteers wear protective gloves and masks.

- Farms and companies which sell high quality ingredients to restaurants are now rerouting food directly to consumers like in local farmer's markets in order to reduce food insecurity and waste.

a person standing in front of a fruit stand: Photo by Vincent Balderas on Unsplash © Unsplash on unsplash Photo by Vincent Balderas on Unsplash

What Can You Do?

For those who are food secure, please consider donating to your local food banks or Meals on Wheels providers, or hosting an online fundraiser. Canned foods and other nonperishable items are also okay to donate, but sorting through them requires lots of volunteers, which goes against social distancing orders. Donations are more valuable to food banks because they can buy food directly from producers and know what items are most wanted in the community which prevents food waste. 

a large orange building: Photo by Sanjog Timsina on Unsplash © Unsplash on unsplash Photo by Sanjog Timsina on Unsplash

Reduce Food Waste

The most important thing consumers can do is to reduce food waste at home as much as possible. Some ways to do this are to only stocking up for a few weeks at a time (no hoarding!), only buying what you know you will eat, and keeping track of expiration dates. I have forgotten about that one bag of carrots stashed in the back of the fridge and the loaf of bread going moldy more than I’d like to admit. 

#SpoonTip: Keeping a post-it note on the fridge that has a list of the fresh ingredients you buy and when they will go bad.

a close up of a bag: Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash © Unsplash on unsplash Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash

Stock Up on Pantry Items

The majority of cooking is being done at home now, so think of each meal as a chance to whip out your inner Chopped champion, using what is available to cook tasty and nutritious food. Use interesting substitutions in recipes, jump on the sourdough or banana bread bandwagon, and truly appreciate food. In order to limit grocery store runs, buy pantry ingredients which will last for a long time.

Basic carbohydrates like dried pasta and rice are the first step to making a filling meal. Bread can be frozen. Having a variety of spices and sauces will spice up and change the flavors so food doesn't become monotonous. Alliums of all kinds like garlic, onions, and scallions keep for a long time and are truly a game-changer in every recipe. They are also immune boosting, so your body's defenses will be strong and ready to fight any illness.

Canned tomatoes, curry paste, and simmer sauces are great options for cooking vegetables and proteins that taste delicious. For proteins, choose canned tuna, lentils or beans, frozen meats like ground beef or chicken breast, and seafood like shrimp. In the fridge, eggs will last for several weeks, as well as butter, cheeses, and most vegetables. 

a table full of food: Photo by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash © Unsplash on unsplash Photo by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash

The impacts of COVID-19 on the food system are vast in regards to food insecurity and waste. By being conscious of what is happening in the country and taking actions to help those with less, our society can move forwards after this crisis. Physical distancing will help flatten the curve, social connectedness is what will help us move forwards, and food is what will get us through it. 


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