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EHE researcher to be part of National Research Network to Address Food Waste

$15 million National Science Foundation grant across 14 institutions aims to develop data and solutions for policymakers, consumers and businesses

Danielle Underferth

In the United States, 40 percent of all food produced is never eaten. This waste has a significant negative impact on climate, food security and the economy. In conjunction with a national goal to significantly reduce food waste by 2030, Associate Professor Roni Neff, PhD, will be among a team of researchers leading a $15 million, five-year project funded by the National Science Foundation to establish the first national research network in the United States focused on this issue.

The project -- Multiscale Resilient, Equitable and Circular Innovations with Partnership and Education Synergies for Sustainable Food Systems, or RECIPES -- was awarded under NSF’s Sustainable Regional Systems Research Networks program. Johns Hopkins will receive more than $1.9 million from the grant. American University is the lead institution.

Wasting food means wasting all the resources that went into producing, processing, distributing, and preparing it, not to mention losing the nutritional and economic value of that food. - Roni Neff, PhD

The grant includes studying solutions, improving tracking, deepening understanding of root causes and education. In partnership with existing data efforts, the 14 collaborating institutions will build a new national data infrastructure that enables tracking wasted food and modeling solutions in new and more sophisticated ways. The project will include programming in K-12 and post-secondary education settings and address food waste at the household level. Finally, it will develop new technologies around composting and anaerobic digestion.

“Wasting food means wasting all the resources that went into producing, processing, distributing, and preparing it, not to mention losing the nutritional and economic value of that food,” Neff says. “Not only that, but producing and disposing of food leads to massive greenhouse emissions. Addressing food waste is critical to mitigating climate change.”

The network puts a strong focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, including an emphasis on opportunities that can help broaden the field of experts working in this space.

Dr. Neff, a member of the faculty in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, has been active in wasted food and food systems research for some time. Her team will:

  • Study food waste solutions that can make a difference at scale, including school interventions through the World Wildlife Fund’s Food Waste Warriors Program and local government efforts through the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Food Matters Regional Initiative.
  • Create and test solutions across different regional settings to untangle what works in areas with different characteristics, including population, governance, infrastructure, existing level of food waste activities.
  • Work with frontline workers to build their capacity and knowledge about food waste prevention, co-create an intervention, and then test it at scale.
  • Study Intersections between wasted food and food system resilience to understand how best to balance the potential benefits and harms of surplus food in a food system.

“Some of the most important ideas come from those who are most directly engaged with the challenges. It’s time for us to work in communities and across disciplines to understand what shapes outcomes in the real world, linking qualitative and quantitative insights, and partnering with some of the leading organizations working to address wasted food in the Unites States,” says Neff.