Eat Your food! Food Waste Facts
Eat your food! The moment this mantra screams in my head, I picture Napoleon Dynamite Tossing a healthy portion of slop at his defiant llama Tina. For those of you who haven’t seen this gem of a film, my apologies. Spoiler alert- Tina doesn’t eat it. Napoleon is left lacking in success at his only chore and thoroughly agitated. Alright, all jokes aside I know Tina is a llama, and Napoleon dynamite is a film rooted in sarcastic charisma. But at times I feel all too much like the defiant Tina turning up my nose to the plate. As we further explore food waste, we can see this is just one contributor to the epidemic.
Why I buy garbage- The front door of food waste.
Imagine this. I am in the grocery store, selecting the prettiest package of celery nature could muster. Subconsciously I know that there’s a 90% chance a least half the tribe is hitting the rubbish bin at the end of its short lived life-span. Why? Because I kind of like celery. So does my daughter. But neither of us enjoy it enough to munch on it regularly through the week and I haven’t planned out a dinner to incorporate it before hitting the grocery store. Thus as It flies through the air and into my cart it’s now become the prime time candidate for food waste before it even hits my refrigerator.
If celery is lucky, maybe I’ll slap some peanut butter on a few stalks during its prime time. My daughter may get bored, rummage through the fridge and realize it exists contributing to the consumption of a few more stalks. However, although I love most veggies the reason this particular one is doomed to food waste from the start is because I love other veggies MORE. EVERY time poor celery is sitting in there next to bell pepper sticks with hummus it’s going to get the stink eye.
It’s not that celery is BAD. It’s just not as GOOD as my favorites like bell pepper and it came into the fortress without a plan. Now had I walked into the grocery and thought “DUDE! Celery, pot pie party tomorrow and you’re part of it!” I then could have grabbed its counterparts for the meal, and celery might have stood a fighting chance. However, celery chilling in the veggie crisper hanging out next to bell pepper; Tina’s not taking the bait.
This is where food waste begins. Little celery diving into my shopping cart on the road to the rubbish bin paved with good intentions. I don’t think a single one of us is immune to food waste, but many of us can significantly reduce the occurrence of food waste with just a little thought and tender care. Reducing food waste can save not only the food wasted itself, but also money, time, the waistline, and of course the weight of the trash bag!
Is food waste a problem?
Food waste is the single largest contributor to solid waste in the U.S. Despite the fact that food insecurity in America is alive and thriving, 40% of food is wasted. Food may be discarded at the plate level, manufacturer level or the retailer level. The reasons for this may be as simple as discoloration or disfigured products. Despite appearances, the taste and nutrient density of the product may be otherwise pristine.
Farmers may leave crops un-harvested if costs outweigh production. This can include costs of transportation and labor as well as selling points in markets. Whether the food waste stems from farmers, retailers, or the household plate-it’s a problem. Food in landfills breaks down forming the greenhouse gas methane. In a nutshell-this is bad news.
From farm to table, we are utilizing excessive resources along the way. This includes 25% of fresh water supply use and chemical uses on crops. It also includes energy utilized to maintain crops, transport foods, and support warehousing facilities. Additional environmental impacts of food waste can be found here
How can reducing my own food waste change the world?
About 40% of food waste is estimated to come from household waste. About 25% of what is purchased in the American household will be wasted. This often amounts to several thousand dollars a year tossed in the trash! I don’t know about you, but that sounds like some new fancy shoes or a vacation if you ask me. Why waste it?
You can’t control the world, but you can control what you purchase, plan, prepare, and ultimately what you toss out. In fact, if you prepare food for your household, you may be a huge influence on food waste for multiple individuals, and that is a big responsibility!
Hi my name is -- and I waste food. How can I stop?
As an individual we can’t do much about over produced crops and high transportation costs. However, we can certainly influence with our dollar! We can be willing to purchase imperfect produce and support local growers. These things can have a dramatic impact in reducing food waste as more individuals adapt this mentality. Other things you can do to reduce food waste can be as simple as proper storage and care. Here are some examples of what do do with produce to prevent food waste.
Produce that does not go in the fridge:
Tomato: Keep tomatoes at room temperature. Only store cut tomato in fridge (tomato will turn mealy and lose its flavor if refrigerated turning it into the perfect candidate for food waste).
Potato: store in a cool dry place (NOT THE FRIDGE). Potato can become unpleasantly sweet in the fridge. You can store cut potato in water the fridge (this can remove starch and help potato become crispy when you roast or fry them).
Onion: Store these AWAY from other foods so those OTHER foods don’t develop an unpleasant flavor and thus become food waste. Storing in a cool, dark place in a mesh bag can keep onions good to go for months!
Winter Squash: keep this in a cool dark place (not the fridge).
Banana: Room temperature. Peels will turn black if left in the fridge but should still taste the same and have the same nutrient composition. Pro tip- freeze bananas that would otherwise become food waste for smoothies and baked goods!
Avocado, Kiwi, peaches, plum, nectarine: ripen on counter and then refrigerate.
Produce that belong in the fridge:
Berries: look these over as soon as you leave the grocery store. Take out any spoiled berries (this will prevent the entire package from quickly becoming food waste!
Beans & peas: store in the fridge and use immediately.
Asparagus: Cut 1/4” off bottom of stalks. Store upright in a a container with a small amount of water in bottom.
Fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, oregano, sage etc). These can also be stored in water in the fridge! If you only need a small portion consider freezing extra in ice cube trays in oil for later use to prevent food waste.
Broccoli & cauliflower: wash and store in fridge. I recommend cutting these up and portioning them out as soon as they come into the house to prevent food waste. There is nothing more intimidating than your stomach growling and considering cutting up a giant head of cauliflower as fast as possible! Lack of preparation is usually why these choices end up in the garbage.
Salad greens: Keep in plastic tub if buying at the grocery store with paper towel between greens and lid to absorb moisture. This helps the product keep longer and avoids food waste.
Kale, chard, collards: remove tough stems. Cut leaves into ribbons. Store in plastic bag with damp paper towel to keep fresh.
Mushrooms: Avoid soaking in water. If using mushrooms, rinse only right before eating and do a quick rinse or light scrub.
I have included only a list of produce here but there are MANY other ways to reduce food waste. Produce may be one product that receives some of the highest discard rate and thus I thought it deserved some attention. It is also the product that perishes most quickly so requires a little thought.
You do have the power to reduce food waste, mostly by just eating your food!
Plan, shop, and prepare to make the greatest impact on food waste. What are some strategies you have used to reduce food waste?
United States Environmental Protection Agency (2017). Sustainable Management of Food Basics. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/sustainable-management-food-basics
Gunders, D. (2017). Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill. National Resources Defense Council. Retrieved from https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-2017-report.pd
United States Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service (2017, October). Key Statistics and Graphics. Retrieved from: https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx
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