Thursday, May 19, 2016 | 3:44 p.m.
Just 24 hours after Ikea opened its first Las Vegas store, officials from the furniture chain and the Swedish embassy joined a Las Vegas food bank this morning for a panel on eliminating food waste.
Ikea Deputy Country Retail Manager Helen Von Reis said nearly a third of the world’s food supply — 1.3 billion tons of food — is wasted annually, a claim backed by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization.
The solution, she said, is smaller meal portions and more responsible sourcing.
“One thing that most surprised me when we moved to the United States was the large portions people eat here,” Von Reis said. “It’s very important to bring forward the Swedish way of sustainability, and we felt we had a social, corporate and community responsibility to help reduce that.”
Also speaking at today’s inaugural Three Square Sustainability Symposium was food bank COO Dan Williams, UNLV School of Community Health Dean Shawn Gerstenberger and department Professor Courtney Coughenour.
During a 15-minute presentation on food waste in the United States, Coughenour called food insecurity a “public health crisis.”
Those who don’t get adequate nutrition have increased stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms, lower academic performance and higher chance of committing a crime, Coughenour said.
The “ridiculous” amount of food wasted each year, if allocated correctly, could help solve the problem, Williams said.
An average family of four leaves some $1,500 in uneaten food — more than 2 million calories worth — on the table every year, he said. Another 70 billion pounds of edible food worldwide is thrown out annually by farmers and retailers, such as grocery stores and restaurants.
Williams said it’s important to make sure grocers and restaurants aren’t throwing out food no longer deemed fit to sell. It should be collected and refrigerated for daily pickup by the food bank, he said.
Since opening in 2008, Three Square has developed relationships with 155 Las Vegas valley food retailers, from Smith’s to Starbucks, and collects 70,000 to 80,000 pounds of excess edible food a day, Williams said.
That food is distributed to local organizations, such as the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and various churches across the Las Vegas Valley, and given to those who need it.
But the food bank’s current collections, more than double their daily total from 2013, are just a start, Williams said. To keep growing, he said, more stores need to save food instead of throwing it away.
“It can be hard because it really varies on a store-by-store basis. I can get 2,000 pounds from one Wal-Mart and only 200 pounds from another,” Williams said. “Sometimes the store employees don’t know to do it or don’t feel like saving the extra food. It’s about getting everybody on board.”
Goran Lithell, deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Sweden in Washington, D.C., who was in Las Vegas for Ikea’s grand opening, kicked off the symposium with a speech on the economic impact of sustainability.
He said his country’s goal is to cut food waste in half by 2030 and be one of the first developed countries to be free of fossil fuel.
“Being sustainable does not at all mean cutting back on economic growth,” Lithell said.