“It’s always easier to throw something away,” says Diana Foss, the director of operations at local food-saving powerhouse Urban Gleaners. For the past 11 years, the Urban Gleaners team has been culling surplus food—to the tune of 60,000 pounds a month—from the watering holes, supermarket kitchens, and private pantries of Portland, distributing it directly to families and school programs throughout Multnomah County. They’re big local players fighting against a global hunger epidemic that leaves one in five Oregonians feeling food insecure, even as an estimated one-third of the world’s food slated for consumption is wasted.
Want to join the fight against food waste? As farms gear up for summer’s bounty, here are tried-and-true ways keep your belly full, your compost bin empty, and your neighbors well-nourished to boot.
Make a battle plan: Though it might feel like a hassle, pull together a well-crafted shopping list. Brighten it up with asterisks noting days you plan to munch on food truck faves and specifics about how many times sandwiches or salad greens might make an appearance in your weekday lunch routine. It’ll cut down on shopping time, save you money, and curb those impulse buys (I see you, starfruit). Find an assortment of meal planning apps and other resources at the City of Portland website.
Keep food weird: Market misfits make up a large chunk of the world’s food waste, including dimpled tomatoes, oblong strawberries, and ugly duckling carrots with four limbs. While maybe not pretty on the plate, these belly-satisfying beauties have the potential to be the star of the show in sauces, stews, and some pretty stellar-sounding ice cream. In June, Salt & Straw’s seasonal flavors will take a big step towards popularizing the city’s ugly food scene, with Second-Steeped Rum Spice and Apple Butter, both featuring fruits slated for the trash bin.
Be comfortable with canning: In love with winter pots of spiced pears, canned at their peak and still tasting of summer? Find a local small-batch canning class that can talk you through kitchen mishap and botulism fears. If you start now, you’ll have a way to store all those late-season stone fruits and sale-bundles of berries for the off-season. It will keep your produce leftovers out of the dumpster and your kitchen stocked with grub year-round.
We give so that our hearts can receive. Spent the morning at #UrbanGleaners in SE #PDX repackaging food from businesses and grocery stores so that families and individuals can easily take healthy food home from pantries and shelters. Will you consider volunteering as a new tradition with friends and family next year (or any time of year)? #familytradition #foodwaste
Reach out to the city’s food savers: “We get people who call us and say, ‘I am cleaning my dad’s house and we have all these cans,’” Foss says. Urban Gleaners rarely takes donations from individuals, but organizations like the Oregon Food Bank will gladly help you clear out your home pantry.
A little goes a long way: While saving one well-blemished peach might feel like a drop in the ocean, food waste efforts have a way of building up big. In addition to partnerships with some heavy hitters (including Zupan’s, where high quality standards means food is stripped from the shelves well before expiration dates), Urban Gleaners makes trips to smaller-scale joints around town, including thrice-weekly runs to Hopworks, where leftover pizza slices become several satisfying meals.
“The donations themselves aren’t that big,” Foss says. “But they really add up.” Indeed, Urban Gleaners is able to repackage the food to serve more than 3,000 students and families at 23 schools through their Food to Schools program.
Pitch in: Passionate about fighting food waste and combating community hunger? Urban Gleaners relies on dozens of volunteers to process more than 700 pounds of prepared food each week. Another local organization, the Portland Fruit Tree Project, can help transport fresh fruit from your over-abundant backyard trees to Portlanders in need. Last but not least, Fork It Over offers a long list of local food rescue organizations, many of which are volunteer-run. Now, get out there and save some food!