Nat Geo wants you and your Scouts to step up to the plate to fight food waste


The half-finished plate of lasagna from the dining hall. The three hot dogs the Rattlesnake patrol roasted but didn’t eat. The six slices of French toast nobody could scarf down. All that wasted food, even in Scouting, sure adds up.

In fact, about a third of all food worldwide is wasted. Americans alone waste about 40 million tons of food every year — enough to feed the 1 billion malnourished people in the world.

This is about more than just finishing all that you scoop onto your plate at the camp dining hall this summer. This is about stepping up to the plate to waste less food and inspiring others to do the same — all year long.

Scout packs, troops, teams, posts, ships and crews can be leaders in this fight to stop food waste, and National Geographic Kids wants to help.

Start by taking the pledge. Then follow what you pledged and share your progress with everyone you know. Read on for details.

And if you’ll be at the National Annual Meeting next week in Atlanta,  visit the National Geographic Kids booth — No. 311 — to learn more about the challenge.

The pledge to fight food waste

I pledge to step up to the plate to waste less food and inspire others to do the same.

Go here to take the pledge, download the customizable pledge certificate, and a PDF with food facts and ideas from National Geographic Emerging Explorer and food waste warrior Tristram Stuart.

Become a newsmaker in the world’s most popular kids’ almanac

The National Geographic Kids Almanac 2017 — due out in May 2016 — will report on the challenge to fight food waste and how kids have stepped up.

The Almanac will include facts like:

  • Top states whose citizens stepped up
  • The number of girls vs. boys who stepped up
  • The age of kids who stepped up
  • The total number of family members who multiplied the effort
  • The estimated amount of food saved by everyone

Some food waste facts to chew on

  • There are nearly 1 billion malnourished people in the world.
  • Households, retailers and services in the U.S. alone waste about 40 million tons of food — enough to feed ALL of the world’s malnourished people.
  • More than one-third of the world’s food supply is wasted — enough to feed 3 billion people and still have leftover food reserves.
  • Wasted food also wastes fresh water. If that water wasn’t used for crop irrigation, it could serve the domestic needs of 9 billion people.
  • An estimated 25 to 32 percent of the food from school lunches ends up in the trash bin.

What you and your Scouts can do

It’s easy for you and your Scouts or Venturers to join the fight against food waste. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Print out the food pledge and post it at your unit meeting place. Encourage Scouts to post the pledge on their fridge at home.
  • Limit serving sizes. Still hungry? Go back for seconds.
  • Ask your Scouts and Venturers to pay attention to how much food they put on their plates but don’t eat on campouts or at the dining hall.
  • Pay attention to how much food gets thrown away after each meeting or campout.
  • Try not to waste any food — not even an ounce — for one meal on every camping trip. Then make it one day. Then make it the whole trip!
  • Enlist your whole unit (and have your Scouts enlist their families) in the “Step Up to the Plate to Fight Food Waste” effort.
  • Make a whole meal out of food that would have otherwise been wasted. Some Scouts could even fulfill Cooking merit badge requirements while doing so.
  • Host one den, troop or crew meeting where everybody brings something creative and delicious made out of leftovers.
  • When you or your Scouts are buying food for meetings or campouts, don’t be afraid to buy fruits and vegetables that are fresh but somehow misshapen, discolored or ugly!
  • Lead a waste-less campaign at campouts, camporees, summer camp or any other place where food is eaten. Weigh the food trash before you begin the program — and then weigh it after to see your improvement.
  • Shop at local farmer’s markets for campouts and meetings.
  • Grow your own herbs and veggies (perhaps in a unit-owned plot at a community garden?).
  • Come up with your own creative ideas about how to waste less food and inspire others to do the same. And share them in the comments section below.

To learn more, visit

About Bryan Wendell 3269 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.


  1. Link takes you to NatGeo’s main page. Very hard to find the pledge they are talking about.

  2. Bryan, maybe you could give us a follow-up report on how well we do next week in Atlanta on not wasting food at our National Annual Meeting.

  3. Yep, looks like a lot of good eating will be happening at the annual meeting. I bet there will be tonnage wasted.

  4. Why do we go about this in the name of world hunger? Food waste has absolutely nothing to do with world hunger. A Scout who cleans his plate on a campout doesn’t help feed anyone across the world anymore than a Scout who decides not to finish his burger causes someone to starve. Logic – we aren’t using it.

    Food waste runs afoul of The Scout Law Points: Thrifty and Clean.

    The reality is that we need to teach Scouts HOW to eat and WHAT to eat and HOW to budget/plan portions for meals. That can be measured two ways: 1. what was the overall nutritional value of the meal cooked? And 2. how much was left over after the meal?

    If we want to teach Scouts about helping others feed themselves, we need to teach them to plan their personal budgets around the idea of selecting charities that have sustainable food production models (pro tip: distributing free food in the 3rd world simply destroys the local food production businesses. )

    Lastly, if we want to encourage personal responsibility when it comes to all things food, we need foster conversations about good citizenship and good food amongst our Scouts. Are we teaching them about food subsidies in the US? Do they know why bad food is cheaper than good food? Do they know why obesity is a leading health problem among the poor?

    (PS – Institutional meals are often the most wasteful and least healthy, that is true. It makes you wonder why we abandoned the patrol method when it comes to cooking at summer camp, doesn’t it? All these very expensive chow halls………counter to our very ethos.)

    • Actually (at least here) it’s probably the other way around. Our camp offers both cook it site yourself and dining hall. We tend to have more waste in the cook in campsite, simply because what is sent doesn’t always correspond to what the Scouts want (too much salad, not enough main dish, for example).
      On the other hand, since the dining hall serves buffet style, each person takes what they want (and none of something if they simply don’t like it) and whatever is still on the buffet can be re-used (and they are creative doing so – yesterday’s leftover chicken winds up on today’s pizza for example, the coleslaw from the BBQ winds up on the salad bar etc.).

      • “simply because what is sent doesn’t always correspond to what the Scouts want” –

        There is a big difference between having adults select and allot food for a patrol to cook versus having a patrol plan,select, and cook their own meals over the course of an entire campout or week at summer camp.

        One of those things has a superficial resemblance to the “patrol method” and the other gives boys a chance to actually be responsible for themselves in a very big way.

        It is very sad that virtually NONE of our summer camp and high adventure programs provide boys with the challenge of being responsible for all aspects of their food intake. Good troops do this on unit campouts all the time. But, when we send them off to the “big events”, we suddenly remove this responsibility in the name of convenience or some other factor.

      • >> whatever is still on the buffet can be re-used<<

        Not true! Check your heath code (and I really hope the camp does). Once food leaves the kitchen it can not be reserved. Serving buffet-style or family-style has a lot of waste. I've seen camps dump a full salad bar into the trash at the end of the day simply because the food can't go back into the kitchen.

      • Maybe rules are different from place to place – the camp in question deals with a food service company so I would assume they know what to do.

        It could simply be extra that was never out (like they made another pan of chicken pieces that didn’t get to the buffet then cut it up and used it on the pizza) or perhaps it’s a different reuse (that is, cooking up something that was originally raw – which would “sterilize” it).

        Additionally, they are more stringent on the buffet than most “regular” buffet places would be – someone double checking to be sure clean plates are used, making sure no one “tastes” while in line (or even wipes their nose or touches their face or mouth), so likely the stuff there is cleaner than a public buffet.

        Maybe some of these silly “rules” are what causes the waste in the first place.

      • No, Billy, Matthew was right. Re-using food that has been served is a giant no no. Re-cooking food enough to “sterilize” it……uh……just turns it into shoe leather. No one should be doing that.

        Taking food that has already been served back into the food prep area simply invites cross contamination on an epic scale. Even with safe guards, it is not worth the risk because one mistake will effect every single camper.

        Institutional food service is a huge added cost to our summer camp programs no matter how you slice it (small pun). Conversely, just about every home has a family kitchen it. Teaching Scouts to take an active role in cooking for their patrol family over the course of a week is simply more worthwhile than teaching them to walk into a building and expect to be fed by someone else.

      • As I said, it’s not the camp – it’s the stupid rules others make.
        A bowl of lettuce sitting on a buffet bar (being kept cold) isn’t going to be any more spoiled or dangerous than the same bowl sitting in a fridge.

        And when I said “re-cooking” that would be like taking the carrots from the salad bar (that are NOT cooked to begin with) and then cooking them up (boiling water which will kill whatever might happen to be on them, if there is anything) so no leather involved – not really re-cooking, just re-purposing.

        Not to mention that food on a bar has not been served – no one has the opportunity to put something into it (not like serving a bowl to your table, where you could spill your drink, stick your used spoon in it or some such thing). The utensils used to dip it up are clean to start and only touch clean plates/bowls (no reuse of plates for “seconds”). And while it’s sitting there it’s being kept warm (or cold).

        And, as noted before (with a camp that offers both options) there is still more waste potential in the campsite as there you can’t keep most things (no refrigeration) and where on a buffet you might have 1-5lb bag of lettuce left over for the whole camp, in the site you can easily have 1/2 of that (and that’s just one site) so you could have 4, 5 or more times as much left over after that meal. The only reason it turns out better is that most Troops cook little, if any of the time.
        Also – while cooking is fine (and we do some of each), more often than not those preparing in site are still finishing up when those from the dining hall return, and at least with breakfast & dinner it can interfere with other activities offered. So, if you had all camps doing only patrol cooking, you’d likely lose some of the class time for badges and such, just because a bunch of groups of Scouts cooking are less efficient than a group of trained (or at least semi-trained) people doing so, with much better equipment.

      • The educational opportunities provided by patrol cooking far exceed the value of any single merit badge class or waterfront period that would be missed due to a reorganization of the camp’s daily schedule to accommodate patrol cooking.

      • On the food service stuff, all I can tell is to talk to some food service pros and ask them about cross contamination in large scale food service. That’s all stuff that has been learned the hard way. And, those aren’t laws or regulations that a Scout camp is going to be able to change anyway. So, moot point.

        As far as generating more time for “program”, well, I am afraid you aren’t going to make a believer out of me. A patrol cooking, eating, and cleaning up as a team 3 times a day have learned FAR more than a merit badge class can impart to them. Summer camps weren’t developed to be “Scout schools” replete with set class times and schedules. The collective groan that goes up from Scouts that goes up when they return from “class” with “homework” at camp should be enough for us to have figured out that we created a monster.

        All this SJW’ing has caused me to realize that most SJWs have very little idea how the S actually works or what J even means. W? As long as it doesn’t involve water guns! Eeek!

  5. This is a serious problem, but I can recall only one time when food from the camp dining hall got thrown out, because the Scout had over doused with (very) hot sauce. It’s been more common to see Scouts going for seconds and thirds, then all but licking their plates before hitting the self-serve sandwich table. And, “If you aren’t gonna eat that, can I have it?”
    I do recall piles of food dumped from the mystery meals in school cafeterias, though.

  6. The message here is totally missed and really should be changed from ‘not wasting food’ to “proper portioning is key”. Having had it drilled into me all my life to not ‘waste’ food by eating everything, I seldom leave anything on my plate which has inevitable led to me being overweight. Cleaning my plate at every meal, even where there is more food on it than I need, in no way whatsoever helps those impoverished around the globe.

  7. “Take what you want, but eat all you take” has been a motto I have seen posted in many places. Take a portion, but come back for seconds, rather than leave “ort”.
    I like Alex’s comments and reasoning very much. Food wastage can be an important sign of one’s attitude toward the rest of the world.
    I remember going thru the cafeteria line at college and watching the girllzzz in front of me PILE their plates full. When I ventured to ask if they were really going to eat all that, they got indignant and replied, “well, I paid for it, it’s mine to take, if I want it!” Most of it went in the trash…..
    And I like Doug L.’s comments on “clean plate” syndrome…. but take enough to clean, not too much.
    Eating styles contribute to this problem, too. Taking BITES rather than GULPS, and chewing longer, hence getting more satisfaction from your eating can help lessen the amount of food eaten.
    Amish adage: “Good Food is Love Made Useable.”

    Bon Appetite!

  8. I will NOT be repeating the logic of this whole thing – sorry. As a kid I couldn’t see how me eating that pancake had any relationship to a starving kid on another planet. We certainly were NOT going to ship it to him.

    Now we have the expansion of water waste? Really? If we could move the excess water around it would be nice. But the nearly 10 feet of excess water in our dam in Texas doesn’t help those in California a bit.

    If you want to bring this message, then how about a competition for sending the saved money from not wasting food (and water) to help those in need? Otherwise this is just some feel good do nothing exercise. And the BSA should be above that.

    • >> As a kid I couldn’t see how me eating that pancake had any relationship to a starving kid on another planet. We certainly were NOT going to ship it to him. <<

      The logic and benefit behind "cleaning your plate" is not immediate. It's not about that pancake sitting on your plate — it boils down to a matter of supply and demand. If you're not actually going to consume the good, why are you consuming the supply? Why are you creating the demand and taking the resources.

      Say your troop plans to have pancakes on their next campout. You buy the mix, you make the pancakes. You estimated an average of 6 pancakes per person; but when breakfast is over you end up throwing away 25 uneaten pancakes! It might not seem like much (hey, a box of pancake mix is pretty cheep; so financially speaking, we're only talking a few cents per pancake… maybe $3 of waste spread out total over the entire troop). I know, a Scout is thrifty but what's the big deal about a few wasted cents per boy? It's better than not having enough, right?

      Well maybe next time you make less pancakes. Maybe you budget for 4 or 5 pancakes per kid. Maybe next time you buy 5 boxes instead of 7. Maybe you save that last box of mix (just as a back up) and then roll it over to the next campout rather than cooking it off and throwing it out. If everyone bought and consumed only what they actually needed and cut down their waste, it would free up a lot of resources that could be going to starving people (or at least would cause the impact of the grain manufacturing to decrease). If 2% of all pancakes are going uneaten, that's a problem. Either we should eat them or we should stop creating a demand for them and wasting them.

  9. Ugh. Let’s not put ourselves in the position of encouraging children to eat more camp food carbohydrates so that they don’t go to waste. World hunger is not caused by throwing away that extra pancake.

    If we have youth run trips and are letting kids try (and often fail) in their meal planning, there’s going to be some food waste. Hopefully in the long run as they learn they will be prepared for life, and do a better job than their peers at eating the right amounts of healthy stuff.

    Then they’ll be healthy and smart and have a few bucks saved up so that they can solve complex problems like world hunger that our generation has failed at.

  10. And just as important for us as food waste is eating utensil waste. I spent a weekend at a WFA training recently. The administrators of the weekend brought styrofoam and plastic everything for us to eat off/with. In addition, we were supplied bottled water. I chose to bring my own mess kit and water bottle and filled it with the local tap water. I would guess they spent several 10’s of dollars on these items and produced a lot of landfill waste. LNT applies to the frontcountry just as much as the backcountry.

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