The waste of food is scandalous – 30 percent worldwide, 40 percent in the United States – the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization says.
Globally, about 1.3 billion tons of food is lost annually, an unacceptable amount when 870 million people go hungry every day, a Food and Agricultural Organization study said.
As governments globally combat rampant waste, local entities join the effort. The Durango School District 9-R lunch program tries to nip waste by limiting portions and offering popular items, so that youngsters clean their plate.
Offerings must meet the nutritional guidelines of the National School Lunch Program, which subsidizes meals for low-income students.
“There’s a huge variety of food to choose from,” said Krista Garand, supervisor of student nutrition for 9-R. “It’s better to let them decide what they like rather than give them what they don’t like.”
The district’s approach matches the No. 1 recommendation of the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency’s inverted pyramid lists source reduction as the first step, followed in descending order by feeding the hungry, feeding animals, industrial use, composting and sending leftovers to the landfill.
Food waste is not limited to a single step of production – from growing through harvesting, storage, transportation, marketing and consumption. It is found along the entire food chain, the U.N. food agency study said.
Lisa Mastny, a Durangoan who is the senior editor for Worldwatch Institute and a member of the local Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado, said waste is found in the early stages of food production in developing nations. In the United States, it is at the consumption level.
A link in the Durango School District 9-R waste-busting effort is participation in a buy-local program to provide farm-fresh greens and meat to control the quality and cost of meals.
The Farm to School Program, organized in 2005, links producers, educators, nutritionists and school officials in the effort to provide fresh vegetables for school kitchens.
School gardens – four district elementary schools and two middle schools have them – raise the awareness of students to the source of what they eat and help them appreciate the scope of food production through involvement in planting, maintaining and harvesting.
A 3-year-old effort to salvage unharvested fruit through communitywide gleaning aims to involve youngsters more, said Jim Dyer, director of the Healthy Community Food Systems.
As a participant in the National School Lunch Program, 9-R follows guidelines based on caloric content that largely dictates the size of portions.
The program sets nutritional guidelines and subsidizes meals for low-income students. The subsidized meals can be free, or cost 40 cents for lunch. In 9-R, 32 percent of students eat free.
School District 9-R received $688,646 last year for student nutrition, district spokeswoman Julie Popp said.
About half of the 4,600 students in 9-R eat a school lunch on any given day, Garand said. Special lunches are prepared for students who are gluten-intolerant or who can’t consume dairy products.
Students who don’t eat a school meal bring a lunch or, at Durango High School, which is an open campus, grab a bite at nearby eateries or go home.
Breakfast contains milk, fruit and two whole grains. Lunch consists of fruit, milk, vegetables, whole grains and protein that can include chicken, tacos or burritos with meat, or pizza and spaghetti with meat. When cooked vegetables aren’t on the menu, a salad bar offers lettuce, carrots, broccoli, celery, radishes, corn, onions and peas.
The National School Lunch Program dictates portion size based on caloric content. The goal is 550 to 650 calories for pre-schoolers through fifth-graders, 600 to 700 calories for students in grades six through eight and 750 to 850 calories for kids in grades nine through 12.
Meals also can’t exceed guidelines for sodium.
Garand consults teachers about student tastes, which vary widely and, incomprehensibly in some cases. Students may spurn whole grain in macaroni and cheese, but gobble up the same grain served in a pizza crust, she said.
In an effort to strike a happy medium, Garand periodically uses a panel of kids – maybe members of the Escalante Middle School student council – to test an item.
An item can be discontinued if panel members turn up their noses.
In one case, a French toast served with strawberry syrup and vanilla yogurt didn’t go over well for breakfast but became popular as a lunch item.