Annually Americans dispose of 100 billion pounds of food and less than 3 percent of this waste is recovered or rescued. According to savinggracefoodrescue.org, in the U.S. today 40 percent of food, which equates to 100 billion pounds, goes uneaten every year.
Those figures are so astonishing that a movement was created six years ago to take action to reduce the amount of food waste and put it in the bellies of those who are hungry.
Omaha is one of three cities nationwide that participated in the movement called Feeding the 5000, where fresh fruits and vegetables that would normally be discarded were cooked by professional chefs to feed 5,000 people. It's the first event of its kind that has taken place in the Midwest and it happened Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. at the Lewis & Clark Landing, located at 345 Riverfront Dr., in Omaha.
On Wednesday, Produce From the Heart Executive Director Mike Shambaugh-Miller of Lincoln gathered up volunteers to collect apples from Kimmel Orchard & Vineyard that were used in some way to make lunches for 5,000 people. Shambaugh-Miller said Kimmel was one of eight farms or orchards that he had collected fruits and vegetables from for the event. His organization collaborated with Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue and Delivery and other organizations to bring the Feeding the 5000 event to Omaha.
"The big goal is to bring to the attention of the people that in America 40 percent of what farmers plant never makes it to a table. Twenty percent of that never makes it to a grocery store or a restaurant in the first place, and then 20 percent of what does get there they end up throwing away," he said, "and so we're throwing away ... and yet we have hundreds of million of people who are hungry. So it's really a distribution issue."
Shambaugh-Miller and volunteers spent five hours at Kimmel picking up apples that had fallen to the ground and most of them were in good shape. Shambaugh-Miller pointed to a small section of three trees that had mounds of apples underneath of them and said that 90 percent of them were going to be hauled away by him for the free Feeding the 5000 event.
"If you look at some of these we're talking about something that the wind blew off that literally is a perfect apple," he said as he bit into an apple that was on the ground. "There's no blemish, there's no bugs, it just needs washed up."
At Kimmel Orchard, Shambaugh-Miller had loaded 13 boxes of apples in about two hours, which he said was about 600 pounds.
"I'm figuring on leaving here with about 2,500 pounds," he said midday Wednesday.
On Saturday, volunteers and chef assistants gathered at The Salvation Army Kroc Center in Omaha for a chopping party where chefs directed them on how they wanted the fruits and vegetables cut for next-day meal, which was soup recipe created by the participating chefs. Shambaugh-Miller said that later that night the chefs started preparing the meal that was served Sunday.
According to a Saving Grace press release, food is the largest contributor to landfill waste in Omaha, yet one in five Omaha children could be going to bed hungry.
"This is truly a community event with some of Omaha's most popular chefs and many organizations working together to help build awareness about food waste and inspire action," Saving Grace President and founder Beth Ostdiek Smith said.
Shambaugh-Miller added the extra fruits and vegetables that weren't used for the Feeding the 5,000 event were given to three Omaha food pantries for low-income people.
Saving Grace and FeedBack presented the first Feeding the 5000 event in the Midwest over the weekend. Saving Grace collects perishable food donations from area restaurants, caterers, cafeterias, grocery stores, delis and food distributors and delivers the food that would normally go to waste to local nonprofit agencies the same day to help those in need. Since October 2013, Saving Grace has delivered more than 235 tons of perishable food from over 18 local food suppliers to 16 nonprofits who feed the hungry. It's mission is the educate and raise awareness about food waste and hunger.
According to Saving Grace's Web site, throwing out one pound of chicken wastes more than 450 gallons of water. Here are a few more facts:
Food is the largest contributor to Omaha's landfill waste;
About 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. stems from producing, transporting, storing and preparing food that's never eaten;
And food waste is responsible for more than one-quarter of the total freshwater consumption in the nation.
For more information about Feeding the 5000, go to feedbackglobal.org, savinggracefoodrescue.com or producefromtheheart.wordpress.com.