Food Waste Op-Ed

This essay was written by NYC high school senior Sumaia R. as part of the Freedom and Citizenship Civic Leadership Project, with help from her undergraduate Teaching Assistants Ariana O. and Stephanie C. View the rest of Sumaia's group project here.


By Sumaia R.

Food Waste. These two words weigh heavily on New York City. IN New York State alone, there are 3.9 million tons of food that go to waste every year. However, given that 13.8% of New Yorkers rely on government assistance for food, this level of food waste is dizzying. There are food resources, they just aren’t being used effectively and efficiently. This leads to extreme levels of food waste.

Growing up in NYC, I’ve regularly seen homeless people on the streets/subways without food. I always see them on my way to school or returning home. It seems they are  either sitting on the side of the road quietly with looks of defeat on their face, or they’re asking for some change for food. While most of the time, I don't have any change to give them,  it seems someone should be able to come through and help them. Moreover, I  assumed these people were homeless because of their own financial situation. 

I’m only recently coming to terms with the role NYC itself plays in terms of people not having home or food. I was ignorant to the level of  food waste that was happening, especially in the financial capital of the world. I expected that most, if not all people should have basic human necessities met, but that’s not the case. A specific instance is school lunches. In my experience, it’s  common to see students throw away their free school lunches. The amount of untouched food that would go into the garbage was unspeakable. Another instance is restaurants and corporations not keeping leftovers. By the end of the night, most companies get rid of leftovers in order to make new batches of food. What’s worse is that some companies have rules that leftovers can’t be given to the homeless. So the food waste level is just increasing.

Okay so we have identified the problems with food waste. We see the common pattern but know the question is how can fix this? So a common solution might be increasing the number of food pantries we have. However, according to the documentary “Hungry to Learn” by Soledad O’Brien, college students can’t survive on just food pantries. Moreover, there seems to be a lack of communication that food pantries even exist. Once again, this being an example of resources not being used efficiently or effectively. 

However, not all hope is lost. Individuals can look at our group's fact sheet for ways to help, sign the city's Zero Waste Pledge, or petition to protect the city's Zero Waste Programs.