Hunger in My Neighborhood

By Mike Frankel

I occasionally work from home on Fridays, and as a treat, I pick up a great homemade meatball sandwich from a spot not far from my home in South Philly. The route takes me alongside the I-95 overpass. For months, I saw lines of people stretching for several blocks under the overpass. It didn’t matter the weather – rain or shine, hot or cold – there was a line, and I couldn’t figure out what everyone was waiting for. Perhaps a casino bus to Atlantic City?

One cold, dreary Friday, I took a late lunch – and there they were, in line as always: all ages, all
races, all sizes. But for the first time, the line was moving. I pulled up to the curb, eager to finally see what was so important that people had been lining up for months. Then I saw the truck. Its sign read “PHILABUNDANCE” – our area’s major hunger-relief organization. They weren’t waiting for a casino
jaunt. They were waiting for food!

I was shocked and felt somewhat guilty sitting in my warm, dry car with my $10 lunch. How could
this be happening in my diverse middle/working-class neighborhood? Leaving the truck with a bag of food was a familiar face. In that moment, I realized hunger isn’t something that happens elsewhere – my neighbors were hungry.

Shortly after that experience, EPA started working on a new program called the Food Recovery Challenge. I signed on immediately. You may be wondering what EPA has to do with food. Turns out food comprises 21% of municipal waste sent to landfills, more than paper and plastic. That’s not just a hunger problem; unlike other kinds of waste, food decomposes rapidly and becomes a significant source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change. Yet every day, we waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl Stadium. In 2011, that added up to 36 million tons of food, nearly all of which was sent to landfills or incinerators.

The sad thing is that most of this food is still wholesome and nutritious. Yet one in six Americans are food-insecure: unsure of where their next meal might come from. Diverting even a small portion of the food wasted could potentially feed millions of our neighbors. EPA is working with organizations to buy smarter and divert good food away from landfills to groups like PHILABUNDANCE. And for food unsuitable for feeding families, we’re encouraging organizations to send it to places that compost it to create nutrient-rich natural fertilizer. After all, that will create soil for growing healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables that help feed us. Now that’s a true model of sustainability!

For more information on Food Recovery and what you can do.

About the author: Mike Frankel is a communications coordinator in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. He is part of an agency-wide group promoting food recovery and sustainability.