How Food Waste Has Been Impacted By COVID-19
DeWaste was founded in 2019 with a mission to foster innovation amongst our company to create unique solutions to the crisis of food waste. When we began it was already reported by the EPA that 30-40% of available food in the United States was being wasted. What was already a catastrophic issue plaguing America was only heightened by the onset of the Coronavirus. This pandemic brought to light how fragile our current food system is. While the Center for Strategic & International Studies reported over 40% of households containing mothers with children 12 and under facing food insecurity and a 70% average increase in the demand of U.S. food banks, farmers were simultaneously dumping millions of gallons of milk a day, throwing out an estimated $5 billion of fresh fruits and vegetables, and smashing hundreds of thousands of eggs.
How did this happen?As Shelter In Place orders shut down restaurants, hotels, and schools, the food supply chain was shattered, leaving many farmers without clients to pick up billions of dollars worth of fresh food. It is estimated that prior to COVID-19 almost half of the food grown in America was sold to stadiums, restaurants, theme parks, cruise ships, and schools. The option to package and send their produce to retail stores is an expensive alternative that is often unrealistic for farmers producing in bulk quantities for restaurants. This phenomena has hit small farmers the hardest as they often are unable to burden these extra costs and find it cheaper to plow the vegetables directly back into the soil and dispose of their other products. This has led to chaos in trying to understand the supply and demand of products as grocery stores limit customers’ purchases of milk due to a shortage whilst farmers are dumping out gallons of milk claiming they cannot sell them. Additionally, quarantine has revealed an alarming fact, Americans consume significantly fewer vegetables when it is not prepared for them in meals at restaurants, causing a large surplus of fresh vegetables for many farmers. While a good portion is being donated to food banks, they are not intended to store vast quantities of fresh produce, they are facing a shortage of volunteers, and they cannot be the only solution to this broken supply chain. A system centered around efficiency has failed America in its most desperate times due to its lack of flexibility. People are not becoming food insecure because there is not enough food, they are going hungry due to the current disrupted system.
Challenges for employeesFood insecurity is not the only issue stemming from this, workers within America’s collapsed food system are some of the most vulnerable employees currently. The Guardian reports that in May almost half of all COVID-19 hotspots could be linked to meat processing plants, with over 14,800 employees in meat packing facilities becoming infected. As if a pandemic was not bad enough, many Californian farm workers were forced to work long hours outside with hazardous air quality, further weakening their immune systems and making them more susceptible to the Coronavirus. Alongside food system employees, those working in the food industry have also been hit by the Coronavirus. The National Restaurant Association has estimated that in two months alone the food service industry has lost approximately $80 billion. The restaurant industry is bearing the brunt of this, having lost over 6 million jobs between April and May. On the other hand, grocery store employees are now considered to be essential workers alongside healthcare professionals, being asked to work long hours and risk their lives for typically minimum wage jobs.
Looking AheadIt is evident that America cannot continue this way, not only must we help farmers, employees, and food insecure families during the pandemic, but we have to move forward together as a country. We must call for a reform within our food systems and transition towards regionalized food supply chains rather than having single states responsible for producing mass quantities of specific products. In addition, we must demand more safety measures to be put in place to ensure safety for all employees. No one should be forced to work whilst sick, or in hazardous conditions, especially without proper equipment. Use your voice to advocate for and elect politicians who represent the best interests of American people and together we can mend the consequences of our broken food supply chain.
DeWaste strives to use our products to better serve the American public and the planet during these tumultuous times. These consequences of COVID-19 have led to innovations within the DeWaste company, including our new food marketplace the DeWaste Network, and an upcoming product, DeWaste Kitchen. DeWaste Network is an online food portal that attempts to amend our broken food supply chain by connecting retailers with customers to create a universal marketplace for food that can withstand natural disasters and pandemics. Whilst consumer waste has decreased due to shelter in place orders restricting in person dining, restaurants are still producing waste in their kitchens. DeWaste Kitchen is a scanning platform with camera units and a weighing scale to analyze food waste and identify any inefficiencies occuring in the kitchen.
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