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Cloudy with a chance of methane

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that displaces oxygen in earth’s atmosphere is becoming a threat as food waste throughout the nation remains unattended. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) 40 percent of the food produced in America ends up in landfills, and, as a result, raises the concern of an increase in methane released into the atmosphere.

What are the causes of food waste?

This 40 percent of wasted food is accumulated through grocery stores, restaurants and, most often, individual households. Most of this food is wasted because people fear consuming food that has passed its labeled expiration date.

While this has always been a valid excuse for tossing an aged can of soup or loaf of bread, environmentalists are beginning to argue that expiration dates are more “marketing schemes” than an actual health advisement.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), one in every seven Americans are food insecure, meaning they aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from. With this in mind, many organizations, like a local center in Tulsa called Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, have partnered up with restaurants and food suppliers to rescue waste-bound leftover food to families in need. However, little legislation has been passed regarding food waste.

“We, as humans, are impulse buyers,” said Amanda Johnson of Rescuing Leftover Cuisine. “Farmers can’t sell produce that doesn’t appear to be visually perfect, so all of that product that doesn’t make it to the market goes to the landfill most of the time. When it goes to the landfill it gets covered up with other non-food product which doesn’t allow air to reach the food. Without air, the food can’t decompose properly. It then creates methane gas that is sent into the air we breathe.”

In order to see how federal laws impact the national rate of food waste in a country, one may look to the country with the lowest national average of food waste — France. Since 2013, France has passed several pieces of legislation to combat food waste. Along with other laws, France required supermarkets to partner with an organization to which they can donate their leftover food. This was a direct effort to kill two birds with one stone and lower food insecurity as well as food waste.

Although food waste statistics are significantly lower in France than the U.S., it doesn’t necessarily mean that more food insecure individuals are being provided meals. In fact, while 14 percent of Americans are food insecure, 40 percent of people in France are food insecure.

There’s an absolute urgency–charities are desperate for food,” said French politician Yves Jégo to parliament. “The most moving part of this law is that it opens us up to others who are suffering.”

In 2012, the U.S. was ranked as the number one most favorable country in food security rates, whereas France was ranked number four by the annual Economist Intelligent Unit (EIU) Global Food Security Index. However, by 2017, a year after France banned supermarkets from throwing away unwanted food, the country had dropped to number eight.

The EIU GFSI showed that the country actually decreased in food security rates. The ultimate conclusion was that France requires supermarkets to donate food to charity. They have a significantly larger rate of hungry citizens than in America, where supermarkets are not required to donate to charities.

Taking into account the comparison of food prices in the U.S. and France, food insecurity may stem from the higher average price of meals in France, as shown by Numbeo.com. Some argue that with America’s emphasis on cheap fast food, massive food waste is inevitable

“Cheap food is an illusion,” said Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. “There is no such thing as cheap food. The real cost of the food is paid somewhere. And if it isn’t paid at the cash register, it’s charged to the environment or to the public purse in the form of subsidies. And it’s charged to your health.”

With the expiration date issue, loose food waste laws and a rise in methane gas affecting the ecosystem, many restaurants around Tulsa have taken the liberty of donating to organizations that can put their leftover food to use. Rescuing Leftover Cuisine reported that local businesses like Antoinette Baking Co., Andolini’s Pizzeria, Lambrusco’z To Go and Panera Bread all donate either daily or weekly to the organization.

Organizations like RLC hope to redirect the overflow of food waste into an overflow of food for the hungry.

“It’s hard to imagine how the needy would be fed if we didn’t have leftovers,” said Johnson. “But I like to think that if we wasted less food it might, in turn, become more affordable and available to all.”