From the Office of the Mayor
By Mayor Mary Marvin
May 23, 2022
In response to my column highlighting the fact that one in six residents of Westchester County are food insufficient despite our County being the third richest in the country, the Trustees and I partnered with our Congressman, Jamaal Bowman, with leadership coordination from Deputy Mayor Bob Underhill, to hold a food drive. The response from the Bronxville community was overwhelming and the amount collected was in the hundreds of pounds of food which went directly to Feed Westchester, the umbrella organization that distributes to our neediest neighbors.
Likewise, the prom dress drive demonstrated the enormous generosity of residents and every young woman was able to have a dress to go to the prom. A big thanks goes to our Police Department which initiated the drive.
The food insufficiencies in Westchester prompted me to look into, not only the donation of food, but how we can limit our food waste and divert the excess to neighbors in need.
Worldwide, 1.3 billion tons of food will be thrown away this year and the United States contributes mightily to this total.
Our households are the biggest source of food waste in the United States as we throw away an estimated 19.4 million tons of food every year.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, food worth more than $160 billion is wasted yearly. Reducing food waste by just 15% would be enough to feed more than 25 million Americans annually.
Getting food from farm to table uses 10% of our country’s energy supplies, 50% of our land and 80% of all freshwater consumed, yet 30% of the crop harvested goes uneaten.
The same uneaten food is the largest component of solid waste rotting in our landfills and producing record methane emissions. Methane is particularly dangerous because it can uniquely migrate significant distances carrying molecules of such toxins as pesticides, paint thinners and dry cleaning fluids.
Bottom line, our food waste policy is consumer driven – we live in a culture addicted to a desire to eat perfectly shaped, unblemished, “pretty” food. Many are obsessed by the aesthetic versus nutritional quality of our food; this image is reinforced by all the current cooking shows, and gourmet magazines where only “camera ready” products are used.
According to multiple consumer surveys, Americans also want to see an abundance of a product on the shelf, especially fresh foods. A majority of consumers do not want to buy from near empty displays. As a result, supermarkets have no incentive to order close to the margins, rather adding a little more to the purchase price to create the abundant effect by over purchasing.
The major culprit in food waste relates to our national desire to purchase ready-made food for convenience. Prepared foods cannot be repackaged or frozen by law or allowed to be kept even one day to redistribute. But based on demand, the appetizer platters, specialized salads and rotisserie chickens are here to stay.
In addition, Americans, like most of the world’s populous, is very confused by the “use by” “best before” packaging dates and often throw away food thinking they are avoiding food borne illnesses. The “use by” date actually tells you when food is no longer safe to eat vs. a “buy before” or “best before” product adds another 5 to 7 days to food life.
When we waste food, we also waste labor, effort, investment in precious resources including the water, seeds and feed that go into producing it, not to mention the resources for transporting and processing food – all of which contribute greatly to greenhouse gas emissions.
The French lead the way in food conservation, being the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food.
The French law requires markets to donate surplus food to charities and food banks with violations resulting in fines reaching $100,000.
France also requires the private sector to recycle their organic waste if they produce more than 120 tons per year and this number has been lowered yearly to not just include supermarkets, but now companies in the hospitality and food service sector.
The rules come directly from the French Senate and it is a national, top down campaign.
The result is the French throw away an estimated 5 to 6 million tons of food per year versus our 19.4 million tons.
A very unusual provision of the French legislation requires food banks and charities to share a legal obligation to stock donated foods in proper hygienic conditions and distribute with “dignity” – defined as only giving out at accredited centers where human contact and conversation is fostered vs. street or truck handouts.
To help alleviate the problem at our local level, you can join our new composting program and save your food scraps, which then recycle into nutrients that return to the soil for future crops. In addition, supporting family farmers and small businesses nearby not only benefits the local economy but fights pollution by reducing delivery distances for trucked-in products.
The Village Trustees continue to work with our very active Green Committee to tackle this issue at the local level.