Chicago: a city of feasts and wastes

CNC report from Chicago
Added On August 7, 2013

Every summer, Chicago puts on all kinds of festivals, for music and the arts, what have you.

But when it's over, tons of food have gone to waste. And that's a problem some volunteers and NGOs are trying to solve. Lifestyles takes a closer look.

Lollapalooza, the popular music festival which draws thousands of visitors to Chicago wrapped up Sunday night. It's only one of the numerous events Summertime Chicago has to offer to its residents and visitors.

Thousands of visitors flock into the city to be part of the festivals from big events like Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza to small neighborhood fun gatherings. 

And as the most important city in the U.S. Midwest, Chicago has the population of about 2.7 million and their daily consumption generated tons of wasted food.

Danielle Nierenberg is an American author and journalist, also the co-founder of Food Tank, a non-profit organization dedicated to agriculture and food system.

According to the statistics she offered, food waste from events like this is quite big and deserves people's attention.

"Every year at Taste of Chicago, the big food festival here, there's about one ton of food that's wasted. There're no composting bins here for that event unfortunately and for Lollapalooza, about 177 tons of food is wasted each time roughly."

According to the statistics, Chicago is wasting twice as much as the New York City. Though Nierenberg thinks the figure may have some kind of inconsistency while it's collected, she believes Chicago does contribute a lot to the overall wasting situation in the country.

"So every year 7 million tons of waste is generated in Chicago that goes into landfills. Probably a third of that is food waste."

Food waste could take place during the whole process from farming to consumption. In underdeveloped countries, improper ways of planting or storage could result in enormous waste. In developed countries, the problem mostly exists in food processing and consumption.

"Imagine you go to the grocery store, you know there's buy one get one free. And so you overbuy boxes of fruit or other food products, then you end up not eating them. So they end up in the trash where they are obviously not eating them. All of the labor went into growing and processing and marketing that food is lost and when the food is decomposed in landfill, it releases methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas by 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. So by wasting food we're also contributing the climate change."

The City of Chicago has not had any plans of composting bins for restaurants or other businesses. Though individuals who compost their food in their backyards can get reward for contributing to the environment, city-wide businesses are not required to compost.

"That's disturbing cause many cities, 108 cities in the United States have composting projects that help cities collect all that waste and use it. Urban farmers use it to grow crops in the cities, or it's sold to landscapers and farmers to help farmers grow their crops."

Nierenberg believes it's very important to curb food waste before it goes wasted. She thinks besides constructing more composting bins, the City of Chicago should have awareness programs to educate consumers and businesses on the impact of food loss and food waste.

And she thinks the modern way of determine whether the food has gone bad could also be a cause of food waste.

"We're confused also by sell by or use by dates of the grocery store. Often we throw away food before it's actually gone bad, we've sort of forgotten how to use our senses. We don't look at food and wonder if it's gone bad. We don't smell it. We just look at that date. So sort of relearning the skills our grandparents have would be very important in preventing food waste."

Danielle Nierenberg and her organization Food Tank are attending a panel discussion on food waste in New York City next month. She hopes to bring the latest information to learn back to Chicago, along with its 2.7 million residents.