Inaugural Food Waste Awareness Week Strives to Raise Tennesseans Awareness for Better Stewardship of Food Resources

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By Kristen Johnson, assistant professor and nutrition specialist, UT Extension Department of Family and Consumer Sciences

A healthy diet is critical for the health and wellbeing of everyone, yet much of the food produced is never consumed. The USDA estimates that each year, rather than being eaten, more than one-third of the food available in the United States is placed in landfills. In fact, so much food is placed in landfills that the US Environmental Protection Agency reports that it’s than any other material.

Reducing food waste conserves resources and has economic and environmental benefits. Additionally, nourishing food that is sent to landfills could be used to feed others, helping those experiencing food insecurity who may need assistance accessing enough nourishing food.  In Tennessee, almost 12 percent of residents, an estimated 809,170 people, experience food insecurity, meaning that, at times, they are unable to access adequate amounts of food to support a healthy, active lifestyle.

To reduce food waste and improve food security in Tennessee, earlier this year the state Department of Environment and Conservation’s Office of Sustainable Practices launched Tennessee’s inaugural Food Waste Awareness Week. Occurring April 5-9, 2022, the week aimed to spread awareness about the issues surrounding food waste and encourage action to reduce food waste in Tennessee. University of Tennessee Extension joined TDEC, along with other partners, to plan and execute this inaugural event. As part of Tennessee Food Waste Awareness Week, forty-three University of Tennessee and Tennessee State University Extension offices across Tennessee hosted food drives, encouraging Tennesseans to donate their excess foods to help feed their neighbors and prevent food from going to landfills.

Through partnerships with local grocery stores, businesses, schools, and faith-based organizations, Tennessee Extension agents, Master Gardeners, and Family and Consumer Education Club members collected more than 12,000 pounds of food, providing almost 11,000 meals to food banks and food pantries across Tennessee. Agents in Blount County set up at Kroger grocery stores. In Greene County, agents worked with all three Food City locations in a first-time collaboration with the local soup kitchen.

Tennessee 4-Hers across the state were involved in Tennessee Food Waste Awareness Week activities as well, organizing food drives at local schools and presenting information about food waste to their peers. On the UTIA campus, 4-H and the UT Extension Department of Family and Consumer Sciences organized a campus food drive and collected more than 500 pounds of food, which was donated to Smokey’s Pantry, which serves UT students, faculty, and staff in efforts to reduce food insecurity among students and employees of the University.

USDA estimates that the average family of four spends $1,500 each year on food that they never eat. To help consumers reduce food waste and manage their food resources, Extension professionals shared information and best practices through presentations, information booths, and connections with local media to educate Tennesseans on how to reduce food waste and manage their food resources. 

In Hardeman County, youth and adults participated in an “ugliest foods” contest and a food waste superhero contest. Extension staff partnered with local schools and restaurants to prevent wholesome foods from entering landfills, by safely recovering unused meals and snacks from local elementary schools and restaurants and delivering them to early childhood education centers and to older adults in the community. The schools continued to donate excess snacks and other foods to local early childhood education centers to help them provide nourishing foods to young children. In Sequatchie County, Extension agents persuaded their local radio host to join their awareness booth at their community’s food drive.

Plans for the 2023 Food Waste Awareness Week, set for April 10 through 15, are ongoing and aim to build upon the momentum that this year’s observance set in motion. Plans are in place to continue sharing information about food waste, engaging Tennesseans to act, and hosting a statewide food drive. After all, food waste is an issue that touches each of us and that requires action by everyone.

Resources to Learn More

UT Extension publications:

Get Food Smart Tennessee

The 2022 Tennessee Food Waste Awareness Week Website  

A UTIA Marketing and Communications video story about the Institute’s 2022 campus food drive