Food waste sounds kind of like something mom used to tell you about at home, but as it turns out, it’s a far bigger problem than just not finishing what’s on your plate. In fact, farm to table the National Resources Defense Council estimates that 30 – 40% of the total food produced in the US is wasted. This is just a little bit shocking and disheartening, given how many people are hungry in this country and beyond. Also, if you consider the impact on overall food costs that this must have, it’s a little staggering.
Staggering Factoids About Food Waste:
- Decreases profits to farmers and increases the overall cost of food for all of us.
- Limits the amount of food available for our population.
- Rotting food in landfills is one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas levels, specifically methane (!! I had no idea!) In fact a Canadian Public Radio Broadcast gives this shocking quote:
“If food waste was a country it would be the third largest CO2 producer after the U.S. and China”
- 80% of the total fresh water, 10% of the US energy budget, and 50% of our land is used to grow our crops and farm animals – if 40% of all of these is wasted we’re doing something incredibly wrong.
- We throw out the equivalent of $165 billion (BILLION!!) each year
- Reducing food wastes by just 15% would feed an additional 25 million people.
- The average American consumer wastes 10 times as much food as a consumer in Southeast Asia. This is up 50% from the average American in the 1970s.
- Using foods we would normally waste – especially if you get creative with things like beet tops and carrot greens and use celery leaves, chicken bones and onion peelings in your soup stock boosts the nutritional content of your food significantly. This is one of the best ways to become a nutritarian (and if you don’t know what that is, check it out here).
Much of this waste is a problem with the industry, including issues with packing, transport, distribution and display but there’s also the myth of the perfect apple, the flawless peach, the stick-straight carrot. As consumers we tend to shop with our eyes and reject foods, produce especially, that show any sign of actually coming from nature, in spite of the fact that produce that looks less perfect is entirely equal in terms of nutrition, flavor, and everything else that actually matters with food. In light of this, the French supermarket Intermarche launched what has to be my favorite marketing campaign of all time – the Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables Campaign.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a campaign like that here? To have the option in supermarkets for buying “inglorious” fruits and veggies at 30% less than regular? I’d be thrilled to have that option because frankly produce spending is a huge cost. It wouldn’t fix the problem entirely, but would certainly be one giant step forward.
What You Can Do To Reduce Food Waste:
Some of this starts with you and I. If we can take steps to reduce the amount we waste then not only do we benefit (think of the money we throw away constantly!) but everyone else benefits too. Here are some steps you can take:
- Actually plan meals and snacks so that you know what you need each time you grocery shop.
- Stop with the impulse buying – just because there’s a 2 for 1 special doesn’t mean you will actually eat 2 sheet cakes in a week. Honestly.
- Love your freezer – If you do buy in bulk, freeze the portion you aren’t planning to use immediately right away so that it will still be useable when you get around to it.
- Dish out less – Put smaller portions of food on your plate – you can always dish out more if you want it, rather than scraping your plate into the garbage after the meal.
- Be organized with leftovers – If you cook large batches of things, separate out the leftovers into serving sized portions so they’re easier to use. If there’s a lot of leftovers, separate them and then freeze them.
- Take produce out of plastic bags – as it turns out, fruits and veggies rot faster in plastic. I like bringing them home, taking them out of plastic and rolling them up in big tea towels to keep them fresh and crisp.
- Wash veggies just before you use them – moisture encourages mold growth
- Label – When you freeze food, label it accurately with both name and date so that it’s less likely to be ignored as mystery food.
- Buy from farmers – Buy from farmers markets and directly from local farmers. Ask them if they would be willing to sell you their seconds at a reduced price.
- Grow your own – growing some of your own veggies, fruits and food connects you to your food in a different way. Its so much harder to waste food that you grew with your own hands, and you can grow great foods in containers if you don’t have a yard.
- Get creative with leftovers – it doesn’t have to be the same thing 4 days in a row. Salmon can become salmon salad, salmon patties, salmon meat balls or salmon dip. Apples that are getting soft or going brown are still wonderful sliced and baked with a drizzle of honey and some crushed nuts. Cooked veggies can often be pureed and spiced into soups.
- Make your own soup stock – this gives you a great use for onion skins, celery ends and leaves, mushroom stalks, ugly bits of veggies, parsley stems, veggie peelings and bones left over from your meals (chicken, beef, pork or lamb). Plus it tastes better than store-bought and doesn’t cost you anything at all. I’m going to do a post on this because people look at me like I have two heads when I talk about it, but making your own stock is so incredibly satisfying! This is also a great step towards nutritarian eating because you’re extracting the nutrition out of the bones and veggie remains that you wouldn’t normally get.
- Compost – fruit, veggie and grain waste as well as coffee grounds and a lot of kitchen paper waste can be effectively turned into nutrient-rich garden soil. If you’re a gardener this is like gold and saves you from having to buy soil additives, fertilizers and a whole host of other things.
- Clear the fridge – there’s something psychologically pleasing about having an overly full fridge, but it also creates more waste because you can’t see what’s actually in there. Keep the fridge a little more empty and eat what’s there before you buy more.
Great Additional Info about Reducing Food Waste:
NPR’s great broadcast and article about ending food waste and the pilot program Food: Too Good To Waste.
Canadian Public Radio broadcast on food waste and steps you can take at home to reduce it.
I *love* this project from chef and masters student Leanne Brown. It’s called Good and Cheap and it’s a free cookbook in .pdf format that helps people to eat on $4 per day. Because she’s budget conscious she’s also really great at using leftovers and making sure food stretches as far as it can. I love that she’s making good food accessible on all budgets. This is exactly what we need to boost health across the nation and the world!
This is the type of change and action that helps your health, helps your budget and ultimately helps the environment and changes the way food is handled on a larger scale. Ending food waste really does start with you and there are so many benefits to everyone involved that it makes a great project to stat incorporating into your life. Small changes over time will really add up and it can be something as simple as starting a soup stock bag (look to next weeks post for how-to information) or getting a compost heap going for your garden. It can be changing the way your fridge and freezer are organized, or even sitting down for 10 minutes and writing down a list of ways that food is wasted in your home. Start with baby steps and work towards reducing the amount of money and nutrition you lose from food waste in your home.