Global waste offers food for thought

Posted 5/12/21

Every year, almost 20% of the world’s food is wasted.

That’s what the United Nations concluded in its 2021 Food Waste Index Report, released in March.

“(T)he true scale of food waste and …

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Global waste offers food for thought

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Volunteers unload the truck’s 1,248 boxes in the parking lot of First Missionary Baptist Church on Dec. 18. Each box held $50 worth of food.
Volunteers unload the truck’s 1,248 boxes in the parking lot of First Missionary Baptist Church on Dec. 18. Each box held $50 worth of food.
Staff photo by Simon Barbre

Every year, almost 20% of the world’s food is wasted.

That’s what the United Nations concluded in its 2021 Food Waste Index Report, released in March.

“(T)he true scale of food waste and its impacts have not been well understood until now,” the report says. “... Previous estimates of consumer food waste significantly underestimated its scale.”

From its most recent data, the UN believes more than twice as much food goes uneaten than previously known. We might expect that large food producers and suppliers are most guilty of squandering goods — purging grocery store shelves of expired items and trashing prepared meals that go unsold.

But they’re not. We are.

“This report estimates that around 931 million tonnes of food waste was generated in 2019,” the UN says, “61 percent of which came from households.”

As LA Times columnist David Lazarus cogently illustrated in a recent article, it’s “enough food, if packed into millions of trucks, to circle the Earth seven times.”

So much food waste accumulates each year that it expels about 10% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Even worse, more than enough food is scrapped than necessary to nourish the hundreds of millions who go hungry every year. About 690 million people lacked for food in 2019, the most recent available estimate, according to the World Health Organization. That was 10 million more than in 2018, and nearly 60 million higher than the previous five-year norm.

“It’s a major problem,” Kristin Bulpitt, a Pittsboro farmer and restaurateur told me. “... By the time food gets to the store, it’s already halfway bad. So much of it ends up in dumpsters, either from people not being able to use it fast enough or when it doesn’t move at the grocery store.”

Bulpitt owns Copeland Springs Farm and Kitchen, part of The Plant complex on Lorax Lane west of downtown Pittsboro. She grows 90% of the food her restaurant serves in a series of fields on The Plant’s campus. Any ingredients she does not produce herself, such as flour and cheese, she sources from other local farms.

She also operates a community supported agriculture program (members pay up front to get weekly packages of fresh produce), which she runs, in part, to combat prolific food waste.

“My biggest fear is that food goes home and rots in somebody’s fridge,” Bulpitt said. “It just makes me sad to think how much is not utilized.”

Not only is fresh, locally-grown food more nutritious and flavorful than store-bought alternatives, but its shelf-life is longer — much longer than many realize.

“Because it’s so fresh it lasts, and I don’t think people always know that,” Bulpitt said. “Sure, if you just take a head of lettuce and you throw it in your fridge on a shelf, it’s going to wilt and be terrible. But if you wrap it up in a plastic bag or put it in a container to keep in that humidity and keep it cold, lettuce will last for weeks.”

Also, more food can be frozen than some believe.

“Even produce, if you don’t have time to deal with it, chop it up and throw it in the freezer,” Bulpitt said. “Most things can be frozen.”

Now, full disclosure: As I write this, I’ve eaten nothing but Doritos in the past 24 hours (I realize how absurd that is). Lettuce hasn’t graced my fridge in a long time. Still, I can appreciate the exceeding nutritional value of locally grown produce. And I believe Bulpitt when she says working with a CSA motivates buyers to observe responsible food-use practices.

“It’s a very intentional decision that people make when they sign up for a CSA and I think it makes people value it more,” Bulpitt said. “And I hope that through the connection we make, they might see my little face flashing before they dump something in the trash.”

Even when food ripens beyond the traditionally acceptable standard of what’s palatable, Bulpitt has some tips to avoid total waste.

“As a last resort, you can put it in the compost,” she said, “but I would say first, throw it in a pot and make it stock. If it’s kind of too far gone, but it’s still edible, but you don’t know what to do with it, you can always make it into a soup broth.”

Pickling is another option.

“It’s so easy,” Bulpitt said. “Like, here’s a quick pickle method: Say you have too many radishes. Chop them up, throw them in some vinegar with some herbs and throw them in your fridge and those will last for quite a few weeks.”

Bulpitt has other preservative methods up her sleeve, many of which she outlines in a document she shares with all her CSA members. The bottom line: there are few excuses to waste food.

“I think there’s just a bunch of different ways to make good use of what we have,” Bulpitt said. “We don’t have to waste so much.”

To learn more about Bulpitt’s CSA, visit her website, Her entry level program starts at $125 for 10 weeks of produce, but low-income families can pay as little as $5 a week through a subsidized pay-what-you-can program.

Other business news

• The property tax rate in Lee County is likely to decrease under next year’s proposed fiscal budget, according to County Manager John Crumpton.

The rate is expected to lower by 1.5 cents per $100 of valuation, from 77.5 cents to 76 cents.

“The strength of our local economy coupled with continued growth and economic development wins are driving demand for county programs and services,” Crumpton said in a statement. “The FY22 Recommended Budget manages those demands and emphasizes the priorities of the Board, which included lowering the county tax rate. Better than expected sales tax and property tax revenues over the past year have placed Lee County in a strong position to manage the expectations and needs of our growing community.”

Lee County’s Board of Commissioners will hold budget workshops in May to review the proposed budget. A public hearing is scheduled for June 7 after which the board must adopt a budget no later than June 30, according to North Carolina law.

The budget documents are available for review on the county website at For additional information or questions, please contact the County Manager’s Office at 919-718-4605.

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at and on Twitter @dldolder.


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