Hunger for a Conversion of Heart
I’m rearranging the table of donated refrigerated items when I catch the eye of a young man holding a jar of A-1 Steak sauce with a quizzical look on his face. Stumbling through a conversation with the help of gestures and Google Lens, we both laugh and smile when he exclaims “Ah! Salsa!” before placing it in his shopping cart and moving on.
I have the honor of spending time each week this winter with my neighbors of all backgrounds and languages while they are shopping at HEART, a food market that addresses food insecurity and its root causes in the greater Columbus area. HEART is one of three food pantries Shepherd’s Corner partners with to, as Pope Francis says, “hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.¹ One of our goals we invite others into is rethinking our current economic system and participating in one that’s both good for people and the planet. Last year we collaborated with From Scratch Farms to share over 4,400 pounds of local, naturally-grown produce. It went to folks who on average go hungry for three meals a week due to food insecurity.²
As I pile bags of sweet potatoes, load shelves of egg cartons, and restock the meat freezers, I have a lot of time to consider some big questions.
With the abundance we have in this country, how is it possible that people are unable to access consistent, wholesome, nutritious food?
Why do we, as average Americans, buy into the frantic demand for more: more out-of-season produce flown in from all corners of the globe, more highly processed food, and more individual items wrapped in layers of plastic?
And ultimately, what in our hearts and our systems need to change to push back against overconsumption and food insecurity here in the United States, two issues that are intimately linked?
I recently learned that over one-fourth of food produced nationwide ends up in the landfill.³ In Franklin County here in Ohio, that’s one million pounds of food a day,³ and the number one item of all material that goes to the dump.⁴
Where is that food waste coming from? The largest amount is not from grocery stores, restaurants, or farms, but from the trash cans of common households. Households account for 39% of food going into landfills nationwide.⁵
One obvious solution to this enormous waste is to divert unusable food into compost systems, whether that be in your backyard, employing a private service, or through a municipal program.
But we are called to go deeper, through a conversion of heart.¹ We can change how much even goes into our compost bins by lovingly changing our habits. Buy only what you will eat. Take leftovers to work. Freeze the food you cannot eat before it goes bad. Get creative in your cooking by using scraps. Have a plan and take note of what’s in your pantry or fridge before you go shopping. The earth and our pocketbooks will thank us.
Our patterns at the checkout and kitchen counter also impact our neighbors who are hungry. If we cut down on 10% of food waste, let’s say, that’s 10% less land needed to grow food destined for the trash and can go towards food for people who need it. This also pushes down market prices, making food more affordable for folks on limited incomes.⁵
It can be done. Columbus has been in the national news recently for a successful neighborhood food waste education campaign. Participating households reduced their food waste by 21% and there was a whopping 40% increase in participation of food waste drop off sites.⁴ We are well on our way towards the Central Ohio-wide goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030.⁵
Together, let’s step away from the blatant choice of our own convenience and comfort over care for our earth and neighbor and towards actions that inspire creativity, restoration, and compassionate care from our kitchen tables out to the world.
Want more practical ideas on how an average consumer can help fight food waste day to day? Check out this helpful Washington Post article.
- Pope Francis. 2015. Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home [Encyclical].
- Nourish to Flourish. HEART Market. 2023. https://heart-market.org/
- Know the Issue. SaveMoreThanFood.org. 2022. https://savemorethanfood.org/know-the-issue/
- SWACO News. Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio. 2022. https://swaco.org
- Working to Lower Food Waste in Central Ohio. All Sides with Anne Fisher. NPR, WOSU. Columbus. 11 Jan. 2023
- A third of all food in the U.S. gets wasted. Fixing that could help fight climate change. Sarah Kaplan. The Washington Post. 25 Feb. 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2021/02/25/climate-curious-food-waste/