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Food Wasted, Food Saved

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 07/28/2016 More stories >>

Drs. PingSun Leung and Matthew Loke point out
the rising trend of food waste in Hawai‘i.

Drs. PingSun Leung and Matthew Loke point out the rising trend of food waste in Hawai‘i.

Food waste—and what to do about it—is big news. Research by ag economists Matthew Loke and PingSun Leung, in the department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, has shown that Hawai‘i residents waste a quarter of all food in the state—356 pounds per person—totaling 522.8 million pounds and more than $1 billion a year! While this is less waste, in terms of quantity, than in other states, the monetary value is greater because of high food costs here.

The numbers are all the more disturbing in light of the continuing focus on increasing food sustainability and local production: a state that imports up to 90% of its food cannot afford to bring it to the Islands only to throw it away. But as Dr. Loke, who’s also an administrator in the Department of Agriculture, and Dr. Leung explain, while it’s important to remember that some waste is inevitable, knowing how and where it occurs is crucial to figuring out how to lessen it.

Joy Nagahiro-Twu and Heather
Fucini pack and label food for the IHS.

Joy Nagahiro-Twu and Heather Fucini pack and label food for the IHS. (photo: UH System Media Production)

Cutting down on food waste is the focus of the Food Recovery Network (FRN), which offers prepared but unused food to those less fortunate in the community. Dietetics students Victoria Duplechain, Joy Nagahiro-Twu, Heather Fucini, and Mariah Martin led the launch of the UH Mānoa chapter of the FRN, partnering with Sodexo’s UH Mānoa general manager—and CTAHR alumna—Donna Ojiri. They began by giving meals every Friday to the Institute for Human Services (IHS), which then distributes the food to homeless shelters on O‘ahu. They’ve already given over half a ton of food since the program started seven months ago!

Recent media coverage of the initiative inspired more students to get involved with the food recovery—and more organizations to request UH’s unsold food. The group has burgeoned from the original five to more than thirty, allowing the students to collect food multiple times a week, and plans are underway to distribute it to the Youth Outreach drop-in center and the Next Step shelter as well as IHS.

While only food that has been prepared but not sold can be donated for human consumption, Ms. Ojiri explains that UH food that’s already been served and discarded also gets repurposed—it’s distributed to Island pig farms. Win-win!