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Omaha Magazine

Wasted Food Is More Than Waste

Mar 03, 2020 12:08PM ● By Patrick McGee

We should all be so lucky as to have too much to eat. At first glance, it may be a blessing, but take a step back and consider the economics of excess bounty. Food waste is an increasing problem with unanticipated consequences for your wallet and the environment. These were, in part, subjects for consideration at the Omaha Public Library’s Read It & Eat Culinary Conference 2019, an event designed to educate the public about the ethical food movement through local food-waste educators.

Amy Mather, the Adult Services Manager of Omaha Public Libraries, organized the event, which happens annually. The topics at this year’s conference, titled Wasted, bridged both culinary and ethical concerns and introduced Omahans to savvy food-recycling techniques spanning from utilizing leftovers, to food-rescue organizations, to composting. Mather said recognizing food waste and confronting it is important. “It’s good for you, your budget, and the environment,” she said, adding that she loves promoting respect for all of our food in every form it takes.

The Wasted presenters included food professionals from various disciplines. Meghan McLarney, a nutrition therapist for Nebraska Medicine who is also a culinary instructor for nonprofit Blossom & Wood, took part in the food waste panel discussion. She teaches strategies to reduce food waste by “knowing how to use what you have.” On the topic, she described cutting down on waste by making communal dishes for social gatherings, rather than everyone bringing their own dish. McLarney warned that methane gas from food decomposition in landfills is contributing to the greenhouse gas problem. “Our landfills are filling up at concerning rates,” she said.

Nancy Williams, president and CEO of No More Empty Pots, a grassroots nonprofit organization focused on helping people become more self-sufficient, reducing poverty, and living on their own terms through smart food practices, also participated. Her organization pushes a “zero waste initiative” in which every item of food is used to avoid waste. For example, produce purchases from a local farmer are calculated to support the local market and then strategically divided for complete use in culinary classes and cafés. The model emphasizes a positive outcome for shareholders based on ethical food use. “We really try to live what we do,” Williams said.

Summer Miller, editor of simplyrecipes.com, author of New Prairie Kitchen (for which she received the Nebraska Book Award), and board member of Saving Grace, a nonprofit whose aim is to rescue food from metro landfills and redistribute to other nonprofits, childcare centers, and those in need, also participated in Wasted. Saving Grace redistributes grocery store foods that have gone out of season or otherwise occupies needed shelf space. Saving Grace has rescued one million pounds of food in six years. She said consumers can do the same on a smaller scale. “Buy only what you need, cook what you have, and educate yourself on what is edible,” Miller said. “Don’t let that carton of greens turn into a salad green soup in the back of your fridge!”

Avoiding food waste may seem easier said than done, but in practice it is quite simple: buy what you will eat, and eat what you buy. Respect where your food comes from. In doing so, you respect yourself and others and help preserve Mother Earth.


Visit nmepomaha.org, savinggracefoodrescue.org, and blossomandwood.org to learn more. To read more on the 2019 Read It & Eat Culinary Conference, visit omahalibrary.org/blogs/post/read-it-eat-culinary-conference-2019/.

This article was printed in the March/April 2020 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.