Understanding the Issues: Hunger, Wasted Food, and the Climate Emergency

Published: May 30, 2023 / Updated: June 7, 2023

Through our work, Lovin’ Spoonfuls aims to address three major issues: wasted food, hunger, and the climate emergency. By focusing on these – both in our day-to-day food recovery operations and in our advocacy –  we aim to play a part in creating a more resilient food system that feeds everyone sustainably. 

One way we’re working on these issues is by helping more people (like you!) to understand these issues and to take action to address them. Enter, this blog!

State of Hunger

People in Massachusetts are experiencing hunger almost as, if not more, frequently than they were during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Project Bread, which uses data from the U.S. Household Pulse Survey, 19.2% of people in Massachusetts were experiencing food insecurity in March 2023. Looking at another set of data, the Greater Boston Food Bank recently published their annual statewide hunger report, which showed that 1 in 3 Massachusetts adults (surveyed between November 2022 and January 2023), face food insecurity. Any way you slice it, many of our neighbors struggle to afford the food they need for themselves and their families, and Black and Latino/a households are disproportionately impacted.

As high as food insecurity rates are now, we’re concerned that even more neighbors could soon be wondering where their next meal is coming from thanks to still-high food prices and the end of pandemic-era safety-net programs designed to supplement people’s food budgets. Here’s where we are:

  • In March 2023, the federal government ended Federal Extra COVID SNAP benefits, which gave families a minimum of $95 additional food dollars each week.
  • The Massachusetts government stepped up to provide Massachusetts’ SNAP recipients an off-ramp from the Federal Extra COVID SNAP benefits. They will receive a portion of their extra benefit from the state (on top of their standard benefit, which is still paid for by the Federal government) for an additional three months. The last state-funded extra benefit will be distributed on June 2, 2023.
  • Between March 2022 and March 2023, food prices rose by 8.5%
  • The debt ceiling agreement signed by President Biden in early June, in practice, will alter regular SNAP and TANF programs in a way that will make it more challenging for low-income Massachusetts residents to access food.

But bottom line: Even if we scaled back rates of food insecurity to where they were pre-pandemic, that wouldn’t be enough because everyone deserves enough safe, healthy food to eat. And the food is out there. 

At Spoonfuls, we recognize that hunger in the United States isn’t a problem of supply. It’s a problem of access and distribution! 

About Wasted Food

In the United States, 38% of all food goes unsold or uneaten. From farms that leave produce to rot in the field because market prices have changed and it’s no longer economical to harvest, to grocery stores that didn’t sell every box of apples and need to make room for a new shipment, there’s a massive amount of food going to waste in the U.S., and it’s happening across the food supply chain.

All of this combined leads to 149 billion meals’ worth of food going uneaten in the U.S. every year. More wasted food facts:

We see all this wasted food as an opportunity. The more good food we can rescue, the more people facing food insecurity that we can feed. Plus, keeping food out of landfills is good for people, too. (Note: Lovin’ Spoonfuls focuses on food rescue, but we’re one part of a collective effort to minimize wasted food. See other solutions here.)

On Climate

The impacts of the climate emergency are already being felt across the globe. From hurricanes and floods to droughts and heat waves, our homes and lives are already being impacted. As temperatures continue to rise, the impacts are expected to worsen.

We have limited time to minimize global greenhouse gas emissions, and we know wasted food is one big contributor in the U.S. What you should know:

  • Uneaten food in the United States consumes:
    • 6% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions
    • 22% of all freshwater use
    • 16% of U.S. cropland
    • 24% of landfill inputs
  • Unsold and uneaten food in the United States, when factoring in production, transport, storage, preparation, and ultimately disposal, produces the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as nearly 100 coal-fired power plants.
  • When food decomposes in landfills, it emits methane, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in our atmosphere, contributing to global warming, at least 28 times the rate of carbon dioxide.

In short, curbing wasted food is one tool we have to respond to the climate emergency.

What You Can Do

By addressing wasted food, hunger, and the climate emergency, we can create an equitable and sustainable food system that fulfills its primary purpose: feeding people! We seek to play a part in realizing this vision every day through our work – and you can get involved, too. If you care about these issues, here’s what you can do:

Speak Up. Even as we’re working to meet an immediate need for fresh, wholesome food today, we’re committed to raising awareness of these issues underpinning our work and raising awareness for long-term solutions to address wasted food, food insecurity, and the climate emergency. You can advocate too!

Food rescue at home. Almost half of all surplus food comes from people’s homes. Curb your wasted food footprint by maximizing the food you have at home!

Donate. Lovin’ Spoonfuls relies on financial contributions to support our food rescue and hunger relief efforts. Help us keep food out of landfills and onto people’s plates.