We All Waste Food. Here’s How You Can Stop.

Save the Food.

That’s the message now being issued in a big way by the people who brought us Smokey the Bear and “Keep America Beautiful.” Why? Because American consumers waste more food than any other segment of the supply chain (43 percent of what’s wasted, according to the recent ReFED Roadmap).

Through TV spots, billboard ads, and a sleek interactive website, Save the Food aims to illuminate America’s food waste problem. Co-created by the Ad Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the campaign is both long overdue and sorely needed. Most Americans don’t realize their role in wasting food, despite U.S. households’ collective 27 million-ton annual output.

“Consumer awareness and education is the most important solution to reduce wasted food,” says Jesse Fink, seed funder of the Ad Council and ReFED initiatives. “The Ad Council campaign will be the major contributor to attitude and behavioral change.”

What does the campaign look like? Save the Food’s bold 30-second PSA depicts the plight of a forgotten package of strawberries. With no dialogue, we simply see the berries slowly rot in a family’s fridge and ultimately get tossed. The spot ends with a black screen and a stark sentence: “40% of Food in America Is Wasted.”

There are also one- and two-minute versions, all created pro bono by marketing agency SapientNitro. These longer, more narrative PSAs better detail the long-distance food chain and what each strawberry must surpass to arrive in our fridges (apparently, one issue is an abiding lust for limes).

The extended spots communicate the embedded resources squandered when we waste food, hammered home by the ending text: “Wasting Food Wastes Everything: Water | Labor | Fuel | Money | Love.” That last one is a little squishy, but likely rings true to anyone who’s ever worked in the food industry.

An ad from the "Save the Food" campaign created by the Ad Council and NRDC

An ad from the Save the Food campaign created by the Ad Council and NRDC

Print ads—which you might soon see in magazines, at bus shelters, and on billboards—feature the brilliant slogan “Best If Used” printed on food packaging. Without an expiration date, the familiar phrase takes on a new meaning. Perhaps politicians’ proposed date label legislation should just adopt that oh-so-powerful message.

All campaign materials direct people to SaveTheFood.com. The standalone website summarizes the environmental and economic impact of wasted food, but it doesn’t mention the indirect relationship between food waste and hunger. The site does provide strategies for avoiding waste, including a detailed guide on how best to store foods.

Having the people who reminded us that “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” now implore us to “Save the Food” suggests that food waste has truly arrived as an issue.

That Save the Food exists is a real win for food waste awareness. But it’s even better news that the Ad Council—which also created McGruff the Crime Dog, those talking crash test dummies, and other classic campaigns—produced it. Having the people who reminded us that “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” now implore us to “Save the Food” suggests that food waste has truly arrived as an issue.

Given its history with Smokey, McGruff, and friends, the Ad Council could easily have created an anti-food-waste character, of sorts. But this stark campaign will likely resonate with the public more than any anthropomorphized food item or winking worm would. Finally, having its namesake slogan—Save the Food—knowingly allude to the old “Save the Whales” slogan encapsulates how much care went into this project. It took more than a year of work to take food waste awareness from in the air to on the air, but that time and effort certainly wasn’t wasted.


Comments (5)

  1. Dana Gunders (April 21, 2016)

    This is only a campaign if WE ALL make it one! Sign up at @savethefood right now! Great piece, Jonathan – thank you!

  2. Christina Taylor (April 22, 2016)

    Its so outstanding & useful to read again & again… Keep writing more!!!

  3. Bethany N. Bella (April 23, 2016)

    Long overdue is right!

  4. wida winarno (April 26, 2016)

    Nice topic. In Indonesia, we also have the same food waste problem, especially for young generation in the big cities.

  5. arvind malhotra (April 26, 2016)

    I like the basic idea.
    thank you!