Recapturing food waste can help feed people and plants alike

The Food & Health Lab at Montana State University is studying how composting food waste can improve plant nutrition.

The Food & Health Lab at Montana State University is studying how composting food waste can improve plant nutrition.

Food waste is a massive contributor to the challenges we face when it comes to revamping the global food system. Nearly one-third of all food produced for human consumption never makes it onto a consumer’s plate. This is a staggering figure, especially when we know that 13 percent of the global population is food insecure. Beyond the human implication, food waste is a devastating issue in terms of environmental impacts as well. Behind the U.S. and China, food waste is the third largest emitter of CO2 and greenhouse gases. Somehow, food waste has not been a large topic of conversation in the discussions of how to mitigate climate change.

The Food Lab at Montana State University has made a commitment to explore the intricate relationships between food, the environment, nutrition, and health. One of the program’s main areas of study is food waste and how to use it as a resource in solving food insecurity and improving human and environmental wellbeing.

Dr. Selena Ahmed and Dr. Carmen Byker Shanks, both professors at Montana State University, are serving as the principal investigators for The Food and Health Lab’s projects. Their backgrounds in ethnobotany and nutrition allow them to approach the program’s mission of promoting biodiversity, food security, and high dietary quality through a unique lens.

One such approach is redirecting food waste in order to return vital nutrients to the food system. Instead of sending food scraps and plate scrapings to the landfill to rot, effectively composting creates a nutrient-dense resource. The resulting fertilizer can then be returned to the soil and bolster the nutrients available for plants to grow, thereby growing more healthy, nutrient-dense food for consumption. The Food and Health Lab team’s findings show that edible plants grown with added compost outperform those grown without, and the end products translate to higher nutritional value for consumers.

Takeaway: There are plenty of ways we can each reduce our food waste. Here are a few:

  • Plan your grocery list ahead of time and stick to it! Avoid shopping on an empty stomach.
  • Understand expiration and ‘best by’ dates.

  • When preparing meals, try to use as much of the plant/animal as you can.

  • Learn how to store and preserve foods to use later.

To learn more, read the full Food Tank op-ed or visit The Food and Health Lab at Montana State University’s website.