This is Best of Week on The Academic Minute: For the Most Popular Segment Award: Beth Feingold, associate professor in the school of public health at the University at Albany, explains why how a lot of food waste happens before it gets to the store.
Beth J Feingold, PhD is an interdisciplinary environmental health scientist. Bridging geography, epidemiology and global health, her research addresses the dynamic relationship among the food system, environmental sustainability and population health.
Dr. Feingold earned her PhD in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, her Master of Environmental Science from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, her Master of Public Health from Yale School of Public Health and her Bachelor of Arts in Geology from Vassar College. She was the Glenadore and Howard L Pim Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University and a Postdoctoral Associate at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Global Health Institute. She joined the University at Albany as an Assistant Professor in 2014.
When you think about food waste, you might imagine leftovers rotting in your fridge or apple cores tossed in the trash… But over half of the 62.5 million pounds of food lost and wasted annually in the U.S. occurs before it even gets to your doorstep. And most of that “food waste” is actually “wasted food” – that is, items that were lost or wasted along the way for reasons having little to do with how good it looked or tasted. This wasted food means wasted resources like money and labor, but also water, land, energy and nutrients. It means accelerated climate change, and ultimately comes at a cost to public health.
Around the country, advocates and policy makers are coupling efforts to address hunger, food security, and environmental sustainability by implementing food recovery programs that redistribute good food that might otherwise be wasted to hunger relief organizations like food banks and food pantries. However, little research has sought to quantify the environmental, nutritional and health impacts of these efforts. This is what my team, including key community partners, has set out to answer in New York’s Capital Region. Focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables, which have high nutritional value and account for 40 percent of all wasted food, we’re asking questions like, “Do interventions like donation-based tax incentives effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions?”…do they increase the nutrition – and nutrition-related health impacts among food pantry clients?” and more recently – “how is the COVID-19 pandemic challenging both food recovery and redistribution efforts and food access?”
While we recognize that systemic changes are needed to address the entrenched issues of waste and hunger, my team and I hope that our efforts to fill this important data gap will ultimately help lead to lasting solutions and contribute to a more equitable, sustainable U.S. food system