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Not quite, but that thought is usually what springs into someone’s mind when I mention one of those phrases.

Food rescue usually never involves going dumpster diving; so what does it really mean and why do we need it?

Before we get into the what, let’s answer the ‘why.’ And it’s a pretty simple answer: wasted food…. and the amount is astounding.

In 2012, a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council stated that the U.S. is losing up to 40 percent of its food. Since that report, the food recovery world has exploded to combat wasted food through the creation of state laws, foundation of nonprofits, development of tech-savvy apps, publication of research and case studies, and more. Just type in food recovery in your search engine and you’d be amazed at the amount of material you can find.

So what exactly does ‘wasted food’ mean? Most wasted food is edible food that goes uneaten or is discarded (usually to a landfill). So how much is 40 percent here in the U.S.?

Sixty-three MILLION TONS of food annually, is what is reported by ReFED.org, a data-driven nonprofit dedicated to ending food waste through innovative and cross-discipline approaches, is the amount “lost” here. That is on average $218 BILLION in financial waste.

And we lose millions of tons of food at each step of the supply chain. Ten million tons are discarded or left unharvested on farms, one million tons lost in factories, 25 million tons lost at stores, and 27 million tons make it to a home… but are never eaten.

That means each one of us tosses out nearly 300 pounds of food every year – equating to a loss for a family of four of $1,800, statistics show.

And the crazy thing? All of this wasted food is happening simultaneously with the overwhelming food insecurity gripping the nation. In California, we have 1 in 4 children facing food insecurity (they do not know where their next meal will be coming from). In Napa County alone, 18.6 percent of our children live in food-insecure households – nearly 6,000 children.

So, I bet you are wondering WHY do we waste so much food and HOW can you waste less, aren’t you?

Some of the ‘why’:

- Date labels are confusing and arbitrary. There are no federal regulations on date labeling – often the labels are just manufacturers’ best guess for when their food is the freshest, nothing to do with safety. New voluntary guidelines have been passed, and hopefully this will help!

- Aesthetics. We love beautiful fruits and vegetables – and if it has a bruise or the apple isn’t shiny enough for us, we tend not to purchase it. Some are left on the shelves, but many are lost before they even hit the store shelf – they just don’t make the cut when it comes to our cosmetic standards so farmers send them directly to the landfill, let them rot in their field, or feed to livestock.

- Distribution. From farm to fork or excess food from a conference or sports game – getting it to where it needs to go is a struggle.

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- We buy too much stuff. We cram our refrigerators full with groceries, so much so, we usually never get to all of it and when we do, it is rotten. For an example, go to YouTube and see The Life of a Strawberry.

So how can you waste less?

- Buy less. Have a list when you go shopping and stick to it; do not shop when you are hungry; be realistic with yourself and your time dedicated to cooking.

- Donate. The Good Samaritan Act protects the donor and recipient against liability (except in gross negligence). There have been zero lawsuits since its inception in 1996.

- Save the Food campaign. Check out this website – it has a guest-imator calculator that estimates how much food you should purchase for your next dinner (party) based on number of attendees, appetite levels, and more.

- Get involved and informed. There are lots of organizations here in Napa working to re-distribute, recover, and feed those in need. Check out the Napa Food Project (nvcando.org); volunteer at The Table or the Food Bank; look into the Waste Not Napa Valley group; watch the movie “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste”; learn about virtual water (one egg = 55 gallons); buy ugly fruit; check out the Food Waste Pyramid!.... I can keep going.

- March 12-16, Spring Into Action Canned Food Drive: Check out NapaRecycling.com—food donations for more information.

So the next time you go out to eat or grocery shopping—take home those leftovers or stick to that grocery list and use what you buy. Oh, and buy that bruised apple. It is still delicious.

This monthly column is written by Kendra Bruno, aka Compost Girl, who is the waste prevention specialist for the city of Napa. To submit questions, email kbruno@cityofnapa.org.

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