Food waste is one of the biggest drivers of GHG emissions. The much-celebrated book Drawdown; The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming ranks reducing food waste as the third most impactful action that can be taken globally to reverse global warming. The authors suggest that 70.53 gigatons of carbon dioxide can be reduced by mid-century with a concerted effort to reduce food waste. Data shows that up to 35 percent of food in high-income economies is discarded, whereas in low-income economies, very little food is wasted at the household level.
Here in Dane County there are several groups that are doing great work to reduce food waste. One is the Badger Prairie Needs Network in Verona. Badger Prairie runs a food recovery program, a kitchen-to-table program, a food pantry, community meals, nutrition classes, cooking classes, and more. The food recovery program collects perishable and non-perishable food from large institutional and business cafeterias, including Epic, CUNA Mutual, UW Hospital, Festival Foods, and Pickn- Save. Badger Prairie enables the redistribution of tons of quality food from these sources to many other food pantries and community outlets in Dane County. In all, Badger Prairie keeps more than 50 tons of good food out of the landfill and delivers it to people across Dane County who need it.
Another important organization building sustainable food systems is REAP Food Group. REAP is a non-profit that has established several sustainable food programs including the Farm to School and Farm to Business programs. Fresh produce is delivered from cooperative farms in western and central Wisconsin to kitchens at Madison College where food is processed in their culinary arts school and then distributed to schools and institutions in Dane County. Sourcing food from Wisconsin farms not only ensures that it is fresh and healthy, but the hyper-local supply chain results in significant GHG emission reductions by decreasing transportation.
These are just two of many ongoing local efforts to reduce food waste and reduce GHG emissions from food systems. During the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic Dane County provided $8 million in funding to Second Harvest Foodback of Southern Wisconsin to purchase fresh food from local growers and then provide it to struggling families via local food pantries. The initiative ensured a market for local farm products while feeding hungry local families. It illustrates that even in crisis we can be creative about ways to reduce food waste.