Dana Gunders is a Senior Scientist at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) whose work to rescue food waste has been featured by CNN, NBC, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, NPR, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and many more. She is also the author of the Waste Free Kitchen Handbook, the ultimate food waste-reduction tool for the home cook.
Please tell us about your job at the NRDC.
These days, my focus is on reducing the amount of food that goes to waste across the country. I look at it from the highest level and then try to push on levers that could make a difference. So, in the last year, I’ve written a consumer guide with tips on wasting less, launched “Save the Food,” a national public service campaign to raise awareness around food waste, helped craft a bill to standardize food date labels, and testified in Congress as to the importance of policy solutions. I have a great team that’s working on other solutions as well.
Food issues have barely made it into the race for President. If the future President were to consider food waste solutions, how should they be addressed?
Fortunately, the current President has at least set national targets to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. Those are hopefully starting to set our federal agencies on a path to explore what they can do. They are also sparking a larger discussion about what entities outside government can do. A few of the things I’d like to see the Executive Branch pursue are better measurement and data collection, targeted grant set asides for farmers and others who are innovating to reduce food waste, and standardization of food date labels.
How do you define good food?
The kind you feel good about eating both before and after putting it in your mouth.
How did you start working on food waste reduction?
I actually stumbled upon the issue as part of work in the sustainable agriculture space. I kept reading these staggering statistics and thinking to myself, “these can’t be true because if they were, everyone would be talking about it.” From that, I wrote a report that got a lot of press coverage for the topic, and I’ve been all food waste all the time ever since.
Do you think that food waste is the largest issue currently surrounding our food system?
Ooh, hard question. I think there are a lot of big issues related to our food system, and food waste is one of them. Ultimately, if we don’t start wasting less, we’ll need to use even more resources to feed future populations. However, water availability, food insecurity, toxicity of pesticides, use of antibiotics in livestock feed… these all are serious issues as well.
WANT TO BE FEATURED ON BEHIND THE PLATE?
DOWNLOAD THE FOODSTAND APP!
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
The call for reducing food waste has resonated tremendously, and people seem to really care. I’ve loved watching this issue spark so much passion in people.
What’s one of your first food memories?
Grandma’s chicken noodle soup.
If you could get the general population to change one aspect of their eating habits, what would it be?
We are currently promoting our second #NoFoodWaste campaign. What are some #NoFoodWaste practices that you incorporate into your daily life?
I definitely recommend marrying someone who’s willing to eat almost anything. Besides that, I try to keep my fridge relatively empty and shop more frequently. It allows more flexibility and also means fresher food.
What’s always in your fridge? What do you use it for?
Maple syrup. I put it on/in everything.
Who is one famous person, dead or alive, that you want to share a meal with?
Jane Goodall, my forever hero!
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
Probably building small, energy-efficient homes with my husband.
What’s your go-to breakfast?
Multigrain hot cereal with cottage cheese (sounds strange, I know).
Your good food wish?
That we all eat alone a little less.