Catherine Nguyen, Bridgewater Courier News Published 4:30 p.m. ET July 18, 2019 | Updated 4:32 p.m. ET July 18, 2019
One million residents in New Jersey are food insecure. Of them, 12 percent are children.
On the other end of the spectrum, a third of the food produced in the country is not consumed. One in five people in the private sector work in the food industry.
At the School Food Waste Reduction Summit held Thursday at Rutgers, these numbers fueled the conversation on the meals people were not eating, whether due to cost or being thrown away. Dozens of attendees from local schools, education boards, composting companies gathered to listen to case studies and brainstorm ways to reduce food waste in their hometown.
Brain Schilling, senior associate director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, said that one of the most poignant quotes he had ever heard was from former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman: “The United States is a food-sufficient society.”
Most Americans do not take the time to think about the food supply because it is usually readily available, whether in restaurants, fast food chains or grocery markets.
“We get what we want, when we want, where we want it… and in the forms we want it,” Schilling said. “We don’t have to think about these things because they magically happen.”
This is partially due to the seeming “invisibility” of the agricultural, one example being food trucks. Reports from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that 92 percent of prepared foods were delivered by truck, a fact most people on the road seldom think about.
Dr. Shilpa Pai, the director of the Resident Education in Advocacy and Community Health program, recounted more personal stories of when she spoke to patients at the pediatric center. At the Eric B. Chandler Health Center, where she practices, the center regularly asks if families are worried about not having enough food at home.
“Every single day, I have a family that says ‘yes, I am food insecure. Yes, I need these food resources,’” she said.
Food insecurity ends up becoming a vicious cycle, she added. Though there is a common misconception that the United States’ obesity epidemic is proof that there is no hunger crisis, many families are forced to go to fast food chains and purchase unhealthy meals because they are much cheaper than fruits and vegetables.
On a more local level, the Rutgers Cooperative Extension partnered with public schools in Paterson to provide training and technical assistance for food service staff. Two years ago, Paterson Public Schools conducted a food waste audit, selecting 15 elementary and middle schools for the study.
Based on the Smarter Lunchroom Movement program, which uses behavioral economics to come up with ideas for encouraging students to choose healthier meals, workers were given techniques to reduce food waste. Some initiatives included making healthy food more convenient and vice versa for unhealthy food and making the lunchroom atmosphere more enjoyable, said Sara Elnakib, family and community health educator for the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
After the training, it was found that 350 pounds of food were saved, which in one year totals up to 90,720 pounds of food saved, or more than $70,000 in cost.
At the event, attendees asked questions to a panel of experts, including David Buchholtz, director of food services for Paterson Public Schools; Jennifer Apostol, director of the Middlesex County Food Bank; Jennifer Shukaitis, family and community health educator at Rutgers; and Pai.
The summit concluded with a group activity for brainstorming possible solutions to the food waste issue, networking and exhibits by students.
Editorial Intern Catherine Nguyen: (908)-243-6616; email@example.com; Twitter @catherine_v_n.
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