The Food Recovery Network is a student movement that advocates against food waste while helping those in need. Photography Courtesy of Food Recovery Network©
Behind the media hype surrounding the Super Bowl, watched by sports fans around the world, lies a completely different reality that has long been overlooked: food waste. In fact, this sporting event is also synonymous with culinary excess.
The Super Bowl is renowned for being the most-watched television event in the United States. Drawing more than 100 million viewers in the US (as many as 113 million for the 2023 edition), the annual final playoff game of the National Football League draws viewers worldwide for its sporting endeavors and its legendary half-time show, usually headlined by a global music megastar. The scale of the media coverage garnered by Rihanna's performance during the latest edition, Sunday, February 12, reflects the importance of this half-time interlude, which takes the form of a mini-concert. Brands also take advantage of this break to broadcast their most creative commercials... even if it costs them some $7 million to do so!
But behind this spectacle of excess lies a less appealing reality, one of overconsumption and food waste. Last year, representatives of America's poultry producers said that 1.42 billion chicken wings were devoured during this major sporting weekend. During the final game, which this year pitted the Kansas City Chiefs against the Philadelphia Eagles, spectators not only tucked into chicken, but also avocado -- lots of avocado! In this case, in the form of guacamole, the famous Mexican dip often scooped up with tortilla chips. More than 47 million kg (105 million pounds) of the stuff are consumed on the day of the Super Bowl alone, according to the US website Today. Indeed, French newspaper, Libération, reported in 2020 that avocado consumption reached a peak during the American football final.
Addressing food waste at the Super Bowl
This sporting event also offers Americans an opportunity to sample delights served by foodtrucks and celebrity chefs. A real culinary business that takes the form of a ticketed pre-game event. For this 2023 edition, the food-fest was hosted in a parking lot near the stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The culinary kick-off was at noon, with hot dogs, burgers and steaks on the menu. According to CNN, estimates suggest that nearly 4,500 kg (10,000 pounds) of food was scheduled to be used as part of the event.Also read: How escalating climate events threatens food security across the globe
But with this food-focused extravaganza inevitably comes food waste. An issue that has been highlighted by the Food Recovery Network, a student movement dedicated to the fight against food waste, launched in 2010. In fact, Super Bowl events reportedly generates more than 63,000 kg (140,000 pounds) of food and drinks that could potentially be recovered for food aid. This realization is relatively recent, dating back to 2020 when the group organized its first campaign to recover leftovers. Three years later, the nonprofit hoped to scale up operations by collecting about 2,500 meals, which is nearly 450 kg more food than last year.
In 2023, all the food collected was given to the Phoenix Rescue Mission, a charity in Arizona that helps people facing food insecurity. In this American state, the work of the Food Recovery Network has a particular resonance. Located in Glendale, the State Farm Center stadium that hosted Sunday's Super Bowl is found in Maricopa County, which has a population of some four million, 17.4% of whom face food insecurity, according to 2020 data reported by CNN. And the case of Maricopa is merely one example of a situation playing out all across the United States, where Feeding America, an organization operating food banks in the country, estimates that 34 million Americans do not have secure access to food.
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