During April’s National Food Recovery Dialogue, students gathered in a classroom to hear how the Ad Council planned to make food waste palatable. What students didn’t know was that they were about to see a preview of the then-unreleased "Save the Food" campaign.
As the first few seconds of the ad began to play, the hum of eager anticipation evaporated into excited silence as we were introduced to the story’s central figure: a single strawberry. Its journey, set to music from Pixar’s Up, started with its growth at the farm and ended, in the ad’s culminating moments, with the strawberry's plunge into the bottom of a trash can.
The Ad Council, in partnership with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), launched their Save the Food campaign last month. The national public service campaign is designed to combat food waste from the consumer level by drawing attention to the water, energy, and money attached to and lost with every wasted pound.
The campaign arrives on the heels of the United States’ first-ever national food waste reduction goal, which calls for a 50 percent reduction by 2030. September's historic announcement brought food waste to the forefront of conversations worldwide, and days later, the U.N. set a similar international target. The message was clear: Food waste is both a domestic and a global priority.
This is no surprise. In the United States alone, the No. 1 item in landfills is not paper, metal, or plastic – it’s food. And not just scraps of food, but edible food that should have never entered the landfill in the first place. The statistics are staggering: 40 percent of all food produced ends up in landfills despite the fact that about 25 percent of our nation’s fresh water is used to grow it. This carelessness with food amounts to about $162 billion lost annually, and is a problem that costs the average family of four about $1,500 per year.
The environmental impacts of wasted food go even further. If global food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after only the United States and China, making wasted food an environmental catastrophe.
“We’re all culprits here, tossing out staggering amounts of food in kitchens nationwide,” said NRDC President Rhea Suh. “But with small steps, we can save large amounts of food – and along with it, money and precious natural resources. The more food we save, the more we can share with hungry Americans, the more we can reduce climate pollution, and the more water won’t go to waste.”
The Save the Food campaign’s role, and more generally the media’s role, in reducing food waste is to provide awareness for and normalize the idea of food waste reduction. Historically, we’ve seen popular media successfully fulfill these role as it relates to other public issues, including drunk driving and cigarette usage.
In the late 1980s, the concept of a designated driver was introduced by public service announcements (PSAs) and popularized by its use on top television programs such as Cheers and L.A. Law. Similarly, the "truth" campaign, through its jarring PSAs, helped bring teen cigarette use down from 23 percent in 2000 to 7 percent today – a similar timeframe provided within the food waste reduction goal.
“Altering consumer awareness and perception around the issue of food waste could have significant environmental, social and economic impact on our country,” said Lisa Sherman, Ad Council President & CEO. “By taking just a few simple steps around food storage, preservation, and use, the home cook has an incredible opportunity to reduce waste and minimize their environmental footprint.”
We all have a role to play when working towards less wasteful, more sustainable food practices. Join us in saving the food, because every pound counts.