Los Angeles Public School Food Waste: $100,000 per Day

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Three-quarters of LAUSD students are Latino.

By coincidence, 80 percent of LAUSD students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. (They’re not just lunches anymore. LAUSD now offers free breakfast via its “Food for Thought” program.)

Federal rules — this is all federally funded — require that students take at least three items each day — including one fruit or vegetable — and that’s leading to kids throwing away $100,000 worth of food per day:

The extra produce costs school districts $5.4 million a day, with $3.8 million of that being tossed in the trash, according to national estimates based on a 2013 study of 15 Utah schools by researchers with Cornell University and Brigham Young University.

Other studies also have found significant waste, including 40% of all the lunches served in four Boston schools. In L.A. Unified, a forthcoming study of four middle schools has confirmed substantial waste and “significant student aversion to even selecting a fruit or vegetable serving,” according to McCarthy, who co-wrote it. He declined to provide further details until the study is published.

Yet federal rules bar schools from allowing people to take the uneaten food off campus. The school board voted to allow nonprofits to pick up extra food under the federal Good Samaritan food law that allows such actions to aid people in need. But Binkle said that not enough schools participate to solve the massive waste problem.

Teachers and parents have also complained about widespread waste in the Breakfast in the Classroom program, which requires L.A. Unified students to take all three items offered.

Nationally, the cost of wasted food overall — including milk, meats and grains — is estimated at more than $1 billion annually. A U.S. General Accountability Office survey released in January found that 48 of 50 states reported that food waste and higher costs have been their top challenges in rolling out the 2012 rules.

The massive amount of food dumped into the trash shows that the diverse students aren’t starving, Brenda Walker suggests, but see free-to-them meals as an entitlement.


  1. Bill says:

    I’m not sure about the entitlement interpretation. Waste is a natural byproduct of bureaucracy. My introduction to this fact occurred when I put myself through college as a janitor in a variety of places, among them a state-funded psych hospital. On the teenage ward, there were beds for up to 40 patients, but there were rarely more than fifteen kids.

    However, to keep their budget, the kitchen had to make all of the food their budget could pay for. They made food for 40 kids every day, regardless of how many kids were on the floor.

    Also, for reasons of efficiency, the kitchen staff arrived at 6:00 am to make breakfast, which was served promptly at breakfast time, which was 7:30 am. Big trays of sausage, bacon, eggs, waffles, oatmeal, toast, etc. Would you care to guess how many depressed, heavily medicated teens were up at 7:30 am?

    I went for several weeks throwing out trays full of food at the appointed time (10:30, to make room for lunch) before I decided to just help myself at 7:30 am.

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