Interview: Jonathan Bloom, founder of WastedFood.com

Jonathan Bloom

 

“I grew up in a family that emphasized food and used it as an organizing principal for family gatherings – which is probably not unfamiliar to The Jew & The Carrot’s readers,” says anti-food-waste activist Jonathan Bloom.

As a freelance writer for the Boston Globe and the Washington Post, Bloom wrote about food and travel. (“My travel articles were about going somewhere else to eat,” he jokes.) Like many Americans, Bloom became increasingly attuned to environmental issues and, he says, “My interests in food and the environment came together for me in 2005, when I volunteered at D.C. Central Kitchen, an organization that rescues food that would otherwise go to waste, and trains homeless people to be chefs using that food.

“Volunteering there opened my eyes to the amount of food that isn’t used in this country, and I was kind of surprised by the high quality of stuff that would have been thrown out if the food rescue groups weren’t using it.”

His interest in the issue grew, and in January 2007, the now-32-year-old Bloom, who currently lives in Durham, NC, with his wife and baby, launched his website, WastedFood.com.

“I saw food waste as a topic that didn’t receive the attention I thought it deserves, and a topic where I could do good by writing about it – and I wanted to write a book about it. The blog was conceived both as a way to raise awareness of the topic and also as a way to help me get a book deal.”

It has succeeded on both counts: Bloom’s book American Wasteland will be published next fall by Da Capo Press, and the website receives more than 5,000 hits a month from viewers interested in its mix of news, suggestions and humor. With everything from reports on college cafeterias’ efforts to go “trayless” (since most students can carry more than they can eat, food piled on trays ends up being wasted in staggering amounts) to recipes, environmental news, product launches and (to raise awareness of the good food that is thrown out merely because it isn’t ready for its close up) pictures of the wackiest-looking vegetables in Great Britain, WastedFood.com manages to encourage virtue without coming off as preachy or judgmental.

I recently spoke with Bloom about why we Americans (and American Jews) waste so much food, and how we can make small changes that will have a huge impact on the amount of food available to feed the hungry, and on the global warming that is exacerbated by food waste.

What is the most important thing individuals can do to cut down on waste?

I tell people that the way they can most impact food waste in their life is by thinking about it – thinking about what you’re buying and what you’re eating, and what is going to waste. The #1 way to do that is to plan your meals and then to make a detailed grocery list and actually stick to that list. Serve sensible portions at home, knowing that people can always take more if they want. Save leftovers after a meal and then actually eat the leftovers. A lot of people end up just delaying the waste. They put something in the fridge and feel virtuous that night, but if a week later you’re just throwing it out you’ve just delayed the waste. If you know you don’t like leftovers, then don’t cook as much.

What would you like to see the government do to cut down on the amount of food we waste as a country?

I’d like to see the USDA get involved, again, in matching up farmers and gleaners and helping promote farm food recovery. There was actually a gleaning coordinator under the Clinton administration, but that position was eliminated in 2001 when the Bush administration took over. Even though it would have fit in with the Bush administration’s rhetoric because it’s something that can be faith-based – they didn’t go for it. There’s just this ingrained idea in Washington you don’t do what your predecessor did even if it’s in line with your values.

What is the “inconvenient truth” about waste – i.e., what should we be doing that no one wants to do?

The so-called inconvenient truth is that in addition to wasting money and creating a generation of Americans who don’t value food, we are contributing to global warming by throwing out food. By sending food to landfills we’re essentially creating methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 20 times more harmful than CO2.

Are there any waste issues that are actually created as negative consequences of positive lifestyle changes – sustainable eating culture, locavore-ism, etc. – and if so, how does one weigh the tradeoffs?

Well, the downside of fresh, unprocessed food is that it’s perishable. When you go to the supermarket or farmers market, the produce is really attractive, and it’s easy to buy too much. I’m someone who enjoys eating so I’m not trying to be the food Grinch. If you go to the farmers market, enjoy that experience and buy interesting, new things. Just don’t go overboard on quantities.

Are there particular problems of waste in the Jewish community, and if so, what can we do to minimize those issues?

Food is a large part of our culture, and when you throw a big party, be it a birthday or a bar mitzvah, you want to please your guests. There’s a “good provider syndrome” (hat tip to William Rathje, founder of the Garbage Project, for the term) where you have to be sure you have more than enough, and at any catered events – not just Jewish ones – the amount of food and waste can get out of hand. I think we can do a better job of enjoying food and celebrating food as part of our culture while at the same time not being so profligate. If you can donate uneaten food to a soup kitchen after the event, that’s great. But because there are legal issues with donating food that has been out on a buffet table, I would urge people to work with your caterer in advance, to tell them that you don’t want the buffet to still be full at the end of the event. We have to start asking ourselves, why is it normal to expect have a full choice of all the food items – all still in abundance – if you show up five minutes before the event ends?  If we can start asking those questions, then hopefully we’ll see the beginning of a cultural shift.

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2 Responses to “Interview: Jonathan Bloom, founder of WastedFood.com”

  1. Hannah Says:

    I’ve been following Jonathan’s blog for a while. Nice to see him interviewed on a Jewish site!

  2. The Jew and the Carrot » Blog Archive » Interview: Jonathan Bloom ... - Food Waste News Says:

    [...] 15, 2013 by Food Waste News Source: The Jew and the Carrot » Blog Archive » Interview: Jonathan Bloom … [...]

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