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EPA enlists faith groups in quest to reduce food waste
A new program links reducing food waste with religious calls to care for the poor. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
The Environmental Protection Agency wants to put faith communities and their canned-food drives, potlucks and volunteer teams to work to save the environment.

The agency's Food Steward's Pledge program, announced Monday, provides resources for religious groups to start reducing food waste. It's one aspect of the EPA's multistep plan to reduce wasted food by 50 percent by 2030, according to a press release.

Local community leaders, like pastors, can equip families with the tools they need to waste less food, EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus told NPR.

"We thought (faith leaders) were a natural ally," because they are trusted advisers in their communities, Stanislaus said.

Churches and other religious institutions can model good food behavior by donating potluck leftovers to local food banks and encourage restaurant owners to do the same, EPA leaders told NPR. The Food Steward website offers tips on which organizations accept donations and how to determine when food needs to be thrown away.

"In 2013, 37 million tons of food waste were generated and thrown into landfills or incinerators," the EPA reported. "Much of the food that is discarded in landfills is actually safe, wholesome food that can be used to feed vulnerable populations."

The new program presents food-waste activism as an innovative way to help the poor and feed the hungry. As NPR noted, many faith-based environmental organizations already address this issue, wrapping it into broader campaigns to link faith with environmental stewardship in believers' minds.

For example, the Evangelical Environmental Network urges evangelical Christians to prioritize care for creation in spite of political tensions over climate change. The organization's CEO, the Rev. Mitch Hescox, told Deseret News National last year that he believes faith leaders have the opportunity to make a meaningful difference when it comes to environmental activism.

"We still have our individual desires and wants to wrestle with, and it's hard to change behavior," but people take sermons on the environment seriously, he said.

According to a November 2014 survey from Public Religion Research Institute, 57 percent of Americans believe that humans are called by God to live responsibly with plants, animals and earthly resources.
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