USAID’s Kitchen Sink: A Food Loss and Waste Podcast

Reducing Household Food Waste with BudgEAT’s Adam Fry

March 07, 2024 USAID Food Loss and Waste Community of Practice Season 1 Episode 21
USAID’s Kitchen Sink: A Food Loss and Waste Podcast
Reducing Household Food Waste with BudgEAT’s Adam Fry
Show Notes Transcript

Over one-third of the world’s food is lost or wasted, undermining efforts to end hunger and malnutrition while contributing 8 to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In low- and middle-income countries, over 40 percent of food loss occurs before a crop even makes it to market, whether due to inadequate storage, pests or microbes, spoilage, spillage in transport or otherwise. Eliminating food loss and waste (FLW) would provide enough food to feed two billion people, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing FLW is critical to global food security, nutrition and climate change mitigation, with technology and the reduction of household food waste playing an important role in these efforts. 

In order to raise awareness, exchange information and share success stories, USAID’s Food Loss and Waste Community of Practice created the USAID Kitchen Sink Food Loss and Waste Podcast. Our goal is to share monthly, bite-sized episodes that highlight the approaches USAID and the U.S. government are taking to address FLW. We hope these episodes provide a valuable resource for those interested in why we should care about FLW and how we can reduce it. 

Our latest episode is with Adam Fry, the Co-Founder and COO of BudgEAT. We’ve all heard the statistic that 30-40% of food produced is either lost or wasted, and consumer food waste is a large contributor to that number. The average US household wastes 32% of its food, an estimated $1,866 annually per household. During this episode, Adam and I discuss the magnitude of the problem of household food waste, what leads to consumer food waste, and what can be done to reduce it. We conclude by considering how to change the narrative around FLW so consumers understand that wasting food shouldn’t be part of the status quo due to its deleterious impacts on climate, economy, and food security.

You can subscribe to receive the latest episodes of USAID’s Kitchen Sink and listen to our episodes on the platform of your choice: Apple, Spotify, and more! Video recordings of the episodes are available on YouTube. Check in every month for new episodes as global experts discuss a range of issues about FLW and methane emissions - from the critical role of youth to the staggering economic costs - and learn about specific ways that USAID is tackling FLW around the world. 

If you have an idea for an episode topic you’d like to see featured or if you would like to participate in an episode of USAID’s Kitchen Sink, please reach out to Nika Larian (

There’s no time to waste!

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(Speaker 1:

Nika Larian) Welcome to USAID's Kitchen Sink a food loss and waste podcast. I'm your producer, Nika Larian. 30 to 40% of the food that is produced is either lost or wasted, contributing to a global food crisis with over 800 million going to bed hungry. Listen on as USAID experts speak with researchers and development professionals to explore solutions to this critical issue that demands a kitchen sink approach. When it comes to climate food security and food system sustainability, we have no time to waste. Welcome to the USAID's Kitchen Sink Food Loss and Waste podcast. I'm your producer, Nika Larian, a food loss and waste advisor at USAID. And I'm joined today by Adam Fry of BudgEAT, a direct to consumer mobile app that serves as a digital kitchen assistant. Today, we'll be discussing the magnitude of the problem of household food waste, some of the causes, some of the ways to address it, and discussing how we can change the narrative around food waste. So welcome, Adam. Please introduce yourself. Hi. Thanks so much for having me. Nika It's exciting to be here while we're at ReFED I'm doing this live. So my name is Adam Fry, and I'm the chief operating officer and co-founder at BudgEAT. And as you mentioned, BudgEAT is a direct to consumer mobile application that functions as a digital kitchen assistant with a triple aim of helping people eat better, save money and waste less. And the way that we do this is basically we help folks find recipes in a very personalized way, build meal plans, generate shopping lists, and then manage their fridge in their pantry. And so using technology to basically bring cooking at home into the 21st century. Thanks for that introduction, Adam. It's really interesting to learn more about budget and really excited to talk to you today. We're very familiar with the statistic of 30 to 40% of the food that we produce is either lost or wasted, and consumer food waste plays a huge role in that statistic. And we know that on average, the average U.S. household wastes about 32% of their food, which is over 1800 dollars a year in wasted food. And at a time where people are very conscious of their grocery bills, that's a staggering number. So I would like to invite you to set the stage and discuss the magnitude of consumer food waste. And what are some of the causes. Yeah. So as you mentioned, it is an astronomical amount of food that's wasted. Dana Gunter is the executive director of ReFED here, has an analogy along the lines of you know, imagine going to the grocery store every week, walking out into the parking lot with three bags of groceries and dropping one that directly to the floor and not bothering to pick it up. Right. It's sort of amazing to think about, but that's basically what we're doing day in, day out, week after week, month after month here in the United States and in many other developed countries. And so the aggregate impact of that is that around 50%. So 48% is the latest estimate. Half of all total food loss and waste comes from households. So it's by far the largest single contributor to food loss and waste in the United States and in most other developed economies. And so when you think about that in terms of environmental impact, that means that around, you know, 12 or so percent of all fresh water use in the United States is attributable to food that later we put in the trash bin, a similar percentage, around 12% or so of all the stuff that we're sending to landfills is food that we thrown out in our kitchen bin. If we stop wasting food in North America alone, we can feed 130 million people per year. And so it's just astronaut comical. Yeah. The implications for, as you mentioned, nutrition, climate, economic development are really dramatic. And as you said, food waste. Consumer food waste is a problem both domestically and internationally. And at a time when we're facing a global food crisis and staggering amounts of food insecurity, that food is too good to waste. So can you outline some of the the opportunities to address consumer food waste? How can we tackle this problem? Yeah. Yeah. So I think first to think about the solutions, it's important to understand a little bit about the causes, right? And often the two causes are bucketed into, into big groups and we can peel back the layers of the onion to understand what are the real causes. But the two big groups are generally overpreparing. So just making too much food, whether or not that's served. And then also food that has gone or is perceived to have gone bad. So spoilage. And so just to dig a little deeper on each of those. For the latter. Right. The food that is spoiled or is perceived to spoil a lot of that actually has been spoiled. We're throwing out a ton of perfectly adequate food in the United States and in countries across the world. And so one of the causes of this is spoilage or perceived spoilage. Right. And so we're actually throwing out a ton of food that's perfectly safe to. And when you dig down deeper on this, you know, the reason is date label confusion. And so there's a ton of food that's perfectly good that we're throwing out because there's a date printed on it, which may say, Best buy, use, buy, sell, buy, or perhaps a date without any descriptor whatsoever. That has nothing to do with food safety. But yet the perception at large is that this is the date after which food is no longer safe to eat. And so we end up throwing out a ton of perfectly good food and when you jump back to that first cause over preparation, you know, digging down a layer deeper as an example, one cause is really cultural norms, right? And so in many places in the world, including the U.S., still serving an abundant amount of food, is seen as a sign of prosperity, of love, of affection. And the perceived risk of under serving or under preparing food is much greater than the perceived risk of over preparing or over serving food. And, you know, it's going to take a lot to unwind those sort of norms and really illustrate the negative impact that overpopulation actually had. make some really excellent points out of them. I think, as you said, that the connection between food safety and food loss and waste cannot be underestimated. And it's definitely something that we need to consider when we're talking about consumer awareness and consumer education. They really do go hand in hand and your second point really tees up our our final question, which is perhaps the most complicated and difficult to to address. And one of the biggest obstacles I think we face in our food waste Warrior position and what are the major goals of this podcast is how do we change the narrative around food loss and waste? As you mentioned, it's a cultural norm to overbuy and overproduce food and it's socially acceptable to waste that food. So how do we really communicate to consumers that wasting this food has really huge implications for nutrition, for climate, for your own wallet? How do we change the narrative around wasting food? I think that's really exactly right. And we need to shift the narrative. And in order to shift the narrative, we also need tangible solutions first. And I think about solutions in these three broad buckets. One is awareness and education. The second is creating the right incentive structures. And finally, you need to make it easy to do the right thing using technology. And so digging into each of those a little bit in the awareness and education front, we are seeing a lot of really positive changes happening. You have grassroots movements like Food Waste Prevention Week, which is happening now, started in the States and now is sort of a global collaboration between, you know, nonprofits, government entities, for-profit business, just a variety of stakeholders coming together. We have other things like stop food, waste day, or simple things like share tables in educational institutions either driven by nonprofits or by the institution themselves. Right? Kids can go and take food that's edible that they're not going to eat, place it on the charitable. Other kids can take it. It can be reused in another meal service or it can be donated to folks who need that food. And the impact of something like that isn't just directly on the food that's not going to the landfill, but it's also when they come home and they see Mommy and Daddy throwing out perfectly good food and they start to ask really tricky questions and then families start to change behavior because they realize we're not setting a good example for our kids in the second bucket around incentives. I think a lot of this is economic. You made a great point at the start of the podcast. We're wasting 1800 dollars to $2,000 worth of food per person in the United States already. And so some of that economic incentive is built in, and we just need to make people aware. You're going to go on a food waste vacation every year if you just stopped wasting food. Literally, you could go on a great vacation. I think on the economic side, there's also other stakeholders involved. So, for example, municipalities, I live in New York City. New York City spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year just processing and disposing of residential food waste. Right. If we put a dent in that, that's tens of millions of dollars a year that could be used to invest in the community. Right. We could literally cut people rebates, checks at the end of the year. Right. But for things like building playgrounds, building schools, all that type of stuff, to create the right incentive structure to show people the real value of food waste. And there's real value to food waste reduction. A lot of that, I think, is underpinned by the right legislative and policy priorities. And so, you know, whether you do things that extreme examples like in South Korea where they'll fine you if you produce too much organic food waste, I don't think that would fly in the United States. We have examples like in California, right, where now every resident of the state has to have access to a municipal or other organic waste disposal service. And so I think some exciting things, even, you know, at the federal level and statewide, that's bubbling up carbon pricing. Right. And so if you create these legislative and policy priorities that support the economic initiatives in that state, that's a powerful tool for change. And then finally, in that third bucket, you know, technology, that's really our bread and butter at BudgEAT, right? Why the heck do I need to remember what's in my fridge every day, wrack my brain? What's for dinner? Right. Think about how can I remix these ingredients that are leftover to make something delicious? A lot of people don't have that skill set, and that's stuff that technology is really good at, right? We can make it easy to do the right thing by supporting people in their pursuits. And it's not just us, but, you know, I think there's other interesting company, Olio and a litany of others. And so I think through awareness and education, creating the right incentive structures. And then finally making it easy to do the right things with technology, you can really create the basis to change the narrative, which I think is that a tougher question, right? And that I don't have a great answer for, frankly. How do you create real cultural and societal change? I am encouraged, but as we've seen it happen in other instances, for example, the plastic straws, right? You have these really visceral images of turtles with straws stuck in their nose that came out, that motivated a huge change seemingly overnight. Right. You have examples like Carson's Silent Spring, right? That sort of sends shivers down your spine, right? There's an emotional reaction. And so I think to really create sustainable cultural change around this one, we need the sort of bread and butter solutions that I described. But then also we need to probably have an emotional connection to food waste and really have people feel it when they waste food at home. Before we end residential food waste, we're all absolutely. I mean, as you said, money talks. So whether you're you're chatting with the consumer, the private sector or government, those economic arguments are the ones that really hit home. So speaking about messaging, but as you said, also thinking about the infrastructure, do they have access to the facilities that help them divert or reduce their own food waste? And and policy is a large part of that. And storytelling is another huge component. We've heard that come up quite a bit at the ReFED summit is collecting these stories that are going to be persuasive to consumers. I love the I love the food waste vacation. That's I mean, but it really is that significant of an amount of money. And I think our challenge now is, is what are the most compelling and attractive arguments that we can make not only to consumers but the private sector, to farmers, to government, all across the value chain? I think the stories have to be really targeted because everyone has different interests at heart and different stories are going to hit home. So I think it is really incumbent upon us to start thinking about those stories. What is going to be the catalyst for food waste, like you said, but the turtle in the plastic straw, what is that visceral story, that image that needs to come to mind when we think about food waste and youth? youth have a large role to play they are earlier adopters of technology. They're going to be the ones most likely to use these apps. They're the ones that are going to take the messages that they're learning in media and at school back home and apply it to their household. So I think in line with thinking of these stories, I think we really need to appeal to youth and what are the stories that are going to really hit home and bring this message of reducing food waste, make that hit home for them, have them bring that back into their household? I couldn't agree more and it was a pleasure being on the podcast. Thank you so much for having me. And it's an exciting environment to do this podcast in here where we're seeing innovation happen before our eyes at the ReFED. So they're absolutely out of a lot of great storytelling happening here. So I'm able I'm so glad we were able to sit down and capture some of your thoughts. It's really great to to discuss the problem of household food waste and some of the solutions and paths forward so that we can tackle this problem together. So thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. You appreciate it. Thank you for tuning in to USAID's Kitchen Sink. This podcast was produced by Nika Larian and is organized by the USAID Food Loss and Waste Community of practice co-chairs Ahmed Kablan and Ann Vaughn. Additional thanks goes to Feed the Future, the US Government's Global Food Security Initiative and the USAID Center for Nutrition.(music playing)