Editor’s Desk: Waste not!

Students discard food at the end of their lunch period as part of a waste composting program at an elementary school in Connecticut. Photo by Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP.

By Theodore Ross

I have three kids, and if I’ve learned anything in my eighteen years of parenting — and you can confirm with my wife whether in fact I’ve learned anything — it’s that not all of the clichés of my youth hold up. 

Take for example, this chestnut: Make sure you have on clean underwear — what happens if you’re in a car wreck and the EMT sees your dirty drawers? Hmmm. Maybe that is good advice.

One that I like is “clean your plate.” If I’m cooking it, my children damn well better eat it. But it’s not just my vanity as a chef. Some 33 percent — that’s 78 million tons — of the U.S. food supply is wasted each year. 

Our food system is wildly inefficient. We waste food on our farms, in our grocery stores, in our schools, in refrigerators, and yes, our plates. That’s why we’re so happy to launch a new, six-part FERN special series on food waste — its environmental impact and what can be done about it — with Inverse, a tech and culture news site.

The series began yesterday, with a diary of household food waste, by Christopher Ketcham (“A week in the life of a big-time food waster”), and a ranking of the good, bad, and ugliest gadgets and gizmos to help us conserve food, by Michael Y. Park (“Five gadgets to fight food waste: the good, the bad, and the ridiculous”).

Today we published two more: FERN staff writer Bridget Huber reported on efforts to curb food waste in school with “The cafeteria as classroom” and, from frequent FERN contributor Bryce Covert, an exploration of how grocery stores are using technology to limit waste (“The rotten secret plaguing America’s grocery stores”). We have two more in the series out this week, so be on the lookout.

I’d like to give a hearty thanks to our designer and developers Jeff Fassnacht and Dan Jaworski for the website redesign that we’re using for our special series going forward. I think it looks great, and I hope you’ll check it out.

I’d also like to recognize a big achievement by Teresa Cotsirilos. She’s a staff writer here at FERN, and the host of REAP/SOW, our podcast platform. We learned last week that her story from April 2023, “The child workers who feed you,” helped inspire an amendment to the farm bill by Rep. Greg Casar, a Texas Democrat, which would clamp down on meatpacking facilities that use illegal child labor. Casar specifically cited FERN’s article in his press release about the amendment. The amendment didn’t pass, but similar efforts in the Senate led by Sen. Cory Booker may add child labor protections to the final bill, to the benefit of young people in this country, and thanks in part to Teresa’s dedicated and dogged work!

I always end these notes with a request for your support for our mission here at FERN. To me, the fact that our reporting not only gets read in Congress, but actually influences policy is as good a reason to give as I can think of. Our goal is to make a difference at FERN, and we need your help for that.