Feeding People, Strengthening Communities in Little Tokyo


Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple surplus food donation event.

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple surplus food donation event.


My parents were always big on leftovers. And as a kid, growing up in Hacienda Heights, I would sometimes hide my leftovers under my seat cushion. I’d prefer to forget about the strange meats we ate, although I do appreciate my parents’ careful use of surplus food. We ate nearly every morsel in our home, even if it meant four nights in a row of different turkey dishes.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and I still eat leftovers, although these days it’s more likely tofu. Yet I’m shocked by how much households’ food habits have changed since the 1980s. Would you believe that in the U.S. we send about 40 percent of our food to the landfills and incinerators? It’s true. In fact, wasted food in the land of the free is enough to fill up a college football stadium every day.

My mom taught me penny-pinching and saving money. Nationally, we trash an estimated $162 billion worth of food every year. That’s $500 a year in wasted food for every child, woman and man.

The challenge of wasted food is growing. Since the 1970s, Americans have increased their wasted food by 50 percent. And the more wasted food we create, the more energy, water and landfills we use, all of which has an effect on global warming.

Can you believe there’s all this wasted food, while one in six Americans is experiencing hunger on a regular basis?

That’s why it helps if we all do our part to prevent and reduce wasted food. At home, you can track your own food waste. Over several weeks, write down every item of food you throw away, and your reason for doing so. You might see patterns in your food waste. For example, if you throw out bread every night after dinner, you can then serve less bread to prevent wasted food and money. There are many household food waste measurement and prevention tools you can use for free on EPA’s website.

sustainable little tokyo logoIn Little Tokyo, we are fortunate to have many delicious restaurants. If a restaurant owner notices that most of her customers are leaving a lot of broth in their ramen noodle bowl, she may want to more carefully assess her serving sizes and how that is affecting her bottom line.

The U.S. EPA offers assistance and resources in wasted food prevention and recovery. Any organization, public or private, that produces, serves, or consumes food can proactively shrink their food waste footprint via the Food Recovery Challenge (FRC).

Restaurants, hotels, temples, venues, schools and others can use the FRC and the Food Recovery Hierarchy to track and reduce their wasted food, while bringing food recovery awareness to others. In 2013, FRC participants reported diverting 370,000 tons of wasted food from landfill, and of this total, more than 36,000 tons of surplus food was donated to feed hungry people. That’s 56 million meals!

Sustainable Little Tokyo (SLT) has embraced the concept of “Mottainai” and the principles of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Respect in its work to help Little Tokyo become more sustainable. Mottainai, a term fundamental to our Japanese American upbringing, is often used in the context of appreciation and gratitude for the things we have and during meals, when food should not be wasted. Guided by Mottainai, SLT is beginning to address food waste in the community – in particular, how best to prevent and recover wasted food.

Every summer, Little Tokyo celebrates Obon season with the Buddhist temples. This year, Sustainable Little Tokyo partnered with Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple to donate the leftover food from their food vendors and farmers market – all grown on a California farm for temple use – to a local food bank.

While much of this food was sold and eaten during the Obon, over one ton of fresh, edible food was left over! All 2,000 pounds were picked up the next morning by St. Francis Center — a nonprofit organization that supports families, people who are homeless, and youth — to be used for their breakfast and lunch service, and to stock their pantry. We are very excited to expand Sustainable Little Tokyo’s contribution to preventing and reducing wasted food.

Here’s a final rule of thumb regarding wasted food, using tofu as the example:

* First, prevent the wasted tofu.
* Second, if you do have surplus tofu, donate it to people.
* Third, feed tofu trimmings to animals.
* Fourth, converting surplus tofu into energy via anaerobic digestion.*
* Fifth, renew the soils by composting your tofu scraps.
* Only as a last resort, throw tofu scraps into the garbage.

Food really is too good to waste. If you would like to learn more about preventing wasted food, contact: André Villaseñor at [email protected] and Collin Tateishi at [email protected]

* Sustainable Little Tokyo: www.sustainablelittletokyo.org
* Food Recovery: www.epa.gov/foodrecovery
* Food: Too Good To Waste: www.westcoastclimateforum.com/food
* Anaerobic digestion: www2.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/industrial-uses-wasted-food#AD

André Villaseñor is U.S. EPA’s Southern California sustainability coordinator. Collin Tateishi is Sustainability Associate & Community Planner in the Department of Community Organizing & Planning for Little Tokyo Service Center.



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