Food waste is prevalent throughout the entire food system and supply chain - from restaurant leftovers to unsold avocados, from carrots deemed too ugly for stores to sell to entire crop yields rotting in transit.
It’s easy to ignore or forget about when it isn’t right in front of you, but we all know what it feels like to hear a half an onion thud at the bottom of the bin.
It’s a real pain point – one that costs the average family in the US over $1500 every single year. It’s obvious that nobody likes wasting food, so why is it often a daily occurrence for most people?
I’d like to suggest one simple idea: we have a broken relationship to food. We are incredibly disconnected from the multitude of resources and tireless people working to maintain our complex food system.
Our primary goal is so often to make food as convenient as it can be, rather than to make food as sustainably or as flavorful as possible. It’s time to fight the food waste mindset and to fundamentally shift our relationship to the food we eat.
It takes a lot of resources to plant, grow, harvest, transport, package, store, sell, and prepare the food we eat. As a result, food production heavily contributes to climate change and is responsible for some 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. When food goes uneaten (as 40 percent of our food does), we effectively waste all of the water, soil nutrients, land usage, emissions, energy, and man power that went into making it in the first place.
Worse still, food waste is the single largest occupant in US landfills. There, it releases methane as it decays, a greenhouse gas that is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide and responsible for 8 percent of global greenhouse emissions.
We have a broken relationship to food. It is a product of our time to be able to eat tropical fruits year round, or a head of lettuce in the dead of winter in the Midwest. It’s tough to give up that convenience, and it is a lot to ask of people, particularly those struggling with food insecurity (but that’s another topic).
There exists a massive disconnect between the consumer and all the effort, time, resources, and people that produce the food we eat. This is a deeply systemic problem that is going to require bold, cross-disciplinary solutions, partnerships across industry and, ultimately, a fundamental mindset shift. How might we encourage people to respect and love every bite of food?
I started studying these facts as a philosophy student at the University of Portland, and quickly learned that climate change can feel not just overwhelming, but down-right paralyzing.
I’m not the type to sit idly by, especially when the world’s biggest threat has already begun to affect ecosystems and people around the world. So, I asked, what’s a way to have a measurable impact on the food waste problem using the resources at my disposal? How might I make a difference?
Helping people see the problem is principally important. Accessible food waste education and compelling resources that spell out the situation clearly are crucial. Next, I wanted to offer an easy way to be just a bit better, to waste a bit less. I decided to target something niche but massively problematic – the household shelf life of fresh produce – and Produce Mate was born.
Produce Mate is a mission-driven startup company dedicated to fighting food waste. We make an antimicrobial kitchen mat that extends the life of your fruits and vegetables.
Simply place one on the counter top or in the crisper drawer of your fridge, load produce on top, and we’ll take care of the rest.
Produce Mate is a straightforward way for real people to make a real difference. We believe that the power of cumulative action starts with making conscious decisions about the food we buy and eat.
Produce Mate makes it super easy to cut back on food waste at home, helping reduce your carbon footprint and saving your family up to $300 a year in wasted fruits and veggies. Getting a few extra days out of your tomatoes is all it takes to save them from a one-way-trip to the landfill. Plus, we’re getting consumers thinking about their food and wasted every single time they open the fridge and see our mat.
This is just the beginning. I’m not sure that climate change can simply be “innovated away”, nor do I think that a bunch of trendy startups are the best way to solve big systemic issues.
I am however convinced that giving people actionable ways to be a bit more environmentally friendly is a crucial piece of the puzzle. It’s going to take all of us, doing lots of small things to shift our habits away from blind consumerism and towards a sustainable economy.
Now we’re asking even harder questions. How do we continue to improve our processes to be more environmentally sustainable? Who are the right partners for us? How can a small company support non-profits and other leading organizations that are doing great work?
Dagan Kay is the founder of Produce Mate. He is a recent University of Portland graduate, where he acquired a BA in Philosophy, along with an Entrepreneurship-Scholar minor. He's also a member of Stanford's University Innovation Fellows, which is a world-wide fellowship of students passionate about innovating higher education and making an impact on the world.