One of the dirty little secrets of the food business is how much waste we really create. The U.S. wastes over 30 million tons of food per year. We waste more than a pound of food per person per day. More than 27% of the food bought at the retail and consumer level remains unused and enters our waste system.

Why should we care? Because waste is pricy. We can combat the rising costs of food by reducing our food waste—and still eat as much and as well as we are now. Amazing! Where to start? Buying with more awareness is the first and most important thing to do.

First and foremost, we can make sure we are signed up for a composting and recycling contract for our food waste disposal. These services are an increasingly common option, but are still not universal.

In fall 2004 when we opened The Sunny Side Café in Albany, a small town on the edge of Berkeley, there was no composting or recycling offered. It took nearly two years for us to get that option, thanks to groups like the Green Albany Project of the Green Chamber of Commerce.

Such waste reduction efforts are a centerpiece of the Low Carbon Diet. Levels of energy used to produce and transport the food, as well as the carbon dioxide and methane released as it decomposes, can all be reduced if food waste is reduced.

But, unfortunately, this is not enough. We need to re-integrate our food into its original ecological cycles.

We have removed our food system from both the life cycles and the nutrient cycles that they traditionally resided in. This is why our food scraps are called “waste” in the first place, because we haven’t realized that they are, in fact, useful for something.

The solution is to return to a Table to Farm culture.

Growing up I spent about half my childhood on a small farm in Sacramento. We certainly had a compost pile reserved for weeds and other farm waste, but our food scraps went directly into the chicken coop. The free range chickens were allowed to forage for insects and wasted grain beneath our rabbit cages. We saved our eggshells and ground them up to be fed back to the chickens for calcium. Once a year we hauled piles and piles of excellent new soil from the chicken coops onto the vegetable beds. We didn’t create food waste. The concept simply didn’t exist. These ideas aren’t radical, but they have been forgotten on the national level.

The term “Farm to Table” has become increasingly popular as people realize the numerous benefits of eating fresh local food. Table-to-Farm completes the cycle.

Table to Farm is the age-old system of utilizing our discarded food scraps as a food and nutrient source in our food production system. Prime examples are chickens and pigs. For centuries, both animals have been seen by traditional cultures as “free food.” Certainly you have to care for and protect them. But pigs and chickens are excellent recyclers of scraps, efficiently turning unused food back into animal protein. Contrast that to our present system, where both hog and chicken farms require large quantities of prime corn and other grains—and are becoming more and more expensive to raise.

The move toward such a system, from where we are now, would not be easy, and would involve rethinking many parts of our food chain. But consider the potential benefits: more food, grown for less cost, with less environmental impact.

Given the staggering inefficiencies of our current system, there’s hope that a Table to Farm system will prevail. In the meantime, we all can do our part to reduce our personal waste percentage, saving money in the process. And helping to build better dirt for our Farm to Table food to grow in!

–Aaron French,