Waste is a pretty trendy topic these days.
“Approximately 40 percent of the food produced in the United States goes to waste. The mountain of wasted food totals 63 million tons, of which 10.1 million tons never get harvested from farms and 52.4 million tons ends up in landfills uneaten. The U.S. spends $218 billion per year (or 1.3% of GDP) growing, manufacturing, processing, distributing, and then disposing of food that never makes its way onto the table.” (End Hunger)
That is frightening!
Yes, consumers are demanding more from corporations, government and businesses to cut back on it. But the problem is still not going away.
There’s not always a ton that you as an individual can do to reduce corporate waste but you can make a difference in your own carbon footprint outside of just not supporting wasteful companies.
It’s not about one person changing the world and waste, that would be unreasonable to assume. It’s about awareness and the little things millions of us can do to make a large impact. If we start with ourselves and our households, then start demanding better practices from those we buy from and the government, that is when a change will happen.
To highlight again how massive this food waste problem is in America, I want to share a statistic from a recent study from The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), called Wasted: How America Is Losing up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.
“America throws out more than 400 pounds of food per person per year. And when that food is wasted, so are the resources that go into producing it, including 21 percent of freshwater used by the U.S. agricultural industry. Wasted food also generates climate change pollution equivalent to 37 million cars per year” (Wasted).
So you complain about Whole Foods pricing but you’re cool with wasting 400 pounds of food every year?
We talk about lack of resources and limited land to produce food on, but we’re wasting 400 pounds of food per person per year.
According to Feeding America, in 2015, 13.1 million children lived in food-insecure households and we’re wasting food…
Sorry if I’m coming off a little strong here but I think it’s an important point to make. Maybe one of my biggest pet-peeves as a cook is letting food go to waste. For three reasons.
- If it tastes good, why throw it out?
- People worked too damn hard to get it on my plate.
- Too many people go without it.
Environmentally conscious and sustainability prone consumers today need to do a better job with their food waste.
There are a ton of companies popping up around the world looking to make a dent in this food waste space because not only is it a global environmental problem, it’s an enormous business opportunity.
If you’re interested in learning more about the different levels of food waste from the farms, to the distribution, to retailers, and finally consumers I highly recommend watching the documentary Wasted: The Story of Food Waste.
The documentary which is produced by Anthony Bordaine “aims to change the way people buy, cook, recycle, and eat food. WASTED!” And, “Exposes the criminality of food waste and how it’s directly contributing to climate change and shows us how each of us can make small changes – all of them delicious – to solve one of the greatest problems of the 21st Century” (Wasted).
It gives you a good understanding of why it is such a big problem for farmers, businesses, consumers, and our health.
They highlight some pretty awesome companies like Daily Table, who are offering wholesome foods at extremely low costs by getting foods from working with suppliers who donate their excess, healthy food to both reduce waste and increase the buying power of low-income families looking for better food choices for their families.
Another company working to reduce waste is a beer company called Toast. They are an award-winning craft beer brewed with surplus fresh bread. They recognized a problem that 44% of bread produced is wasted. So this company based in the UK started using breadmaker’s leftovers to make beer. It’s a non-profit and they donate all their profits to the charity Feedback to help end food waste in other areas.
I’m waiting for them to get to Austin because this is a beer I definitely want to get behind.
So it’s really great to see industry working to make a difference in food waste but what can YOU do?
Well, it starts at home. Here are some tips on how you can reduce waste and make your food go further.
- Shop wisely – Ever go to the store with no plan and you end up spending 2x your budget and have no idea what the heck you did. Well, that’s a red flag. Chances are if you don’t have a plan about what you’re going to eat and when you’re going to eat it, you probably won’t. So start planning meals, use a shopping list and make sure you’re not buying too much.
- The labels – Your food labels are bullshit. What’s the difference between use by, sell by, eat by, best by, etc. the list goes on and on and as consumers how are we supposed to know what dates to believe and how we should interpret them? They’re made for retailers and suppliers to have to restock products whether they have really gone bad or not. So it’s time to get back to the old-fashioned way of checking your food for quality… The look, smell, and taste test! If it looks fine and smells fine, it’s probably fine. Mother nature has a funny way of letting us know when we should or should not be eating something. Use your senses and don’t throw out food before it’s gone bad.
- When you’re cooking – When you’re cooking be conscious of how much you’re making. Plan it out, and if you want to make enough for leftover, great! Just make sure to eat them. I know life gets in the way and sometimes you forget about those leftovers but you can always freeze things and defrost them when you’re ready to chow down again. My favorite way to use leftovers is for my breakfast. I don’t care if it’s Vietnamese pho, Italian tomato sauce, or a turkey burger, put a fried egg on it and it’ll be a badass breakfast.
PRO TIP: Not using the stems from your leafy greens? Breaking off the stems of your mushrooms? Or cutting off the beautiful leaves off your carrots? DONT THROW THEM OUT! These can all be eaten and made into delicious side dishes, sauces, or part of an early morning egg scramble. (I sautee my kale and mushroom stems all the time to have with eggs, and carrot leaves make for an amazing pesto 🙂 leave a comment if you want a recipe)
- Your fridge – We’ve all lost track of all the crap we keep in our refrigerators. How many times have you opened the fridge looking for a beer and you get a whiff as bad as a dead animal? The never-ending abyss of the back of the fridge can be a scary place for food. Don’t let it get lost in there. Keep your fridge organized and clean to be sure you don’t forget about some of that tasty leftover cauliflower, or chicken wings. If it doesn’t get lost, it won’t go to waste.
- Scraps to Stock – So you just finish making dinner and you have little scraps from your meal. Potato skins, ends of your onions and squash, bones from the chicken, skin from your fish, whatever it is, often it makes its way right to the garbage. Next time, grab a giant ziplock and throw it all in your freezer, keep doing this until the bag is full and you’ll have all the ingredients for an amazing stock which can be used for soups, quinoa, rice, sauces, etc. Ali and I started doing this with our scraps all the time and so I’m never short on stock and haven’t had to buy from the store in months. (I’ll have a more detailed recipe on how to do this soon!)
- Compost – After all that fine work above you’re bound to have some things that don’t make the cut to be reused or re-eaten. So what do you do with all the rest? Start composting! I’m very excited that the city of Austin just introduced compost bins to our trash so they made it super easy for us. If your city doesn’t already have a compost program, do a quick google search and see how you can start composting in your hometown. Benefits include; enriched soil, reduced need for chemical fertilizers, AND most importantly, reduced methane emissions from landfills and a reduced carbon footprint.
- Demand change – All the things above are what you can do in the house. But the beauty of capitalism and democracy is that we can use our voice and wallets to impact change as well. Take a look to see which restaurants and grocery stores are working towards being more sustainable. Find out which are making strides to reduce and prevent waste. And even ask if they are donating their excess foods to the hungry or at least composting! If reducing waste is important to you, show your support for these businesses and others will follow suit. It’s just good business. Finally, I know this is probably everyone’s least favorite way to be involved but you can contact your local legislators to tell that that food waste is an important issue.
- Spread the word – Share this post with your family and friends. Inform people about the issues. The more people that know and care the faster we will see change.
Hopefully, this information has been helpful and you can now make more conscious decisions about how to reduce waste in your everyday life. Let me know what you think or other tips for how you reduce waste by leaving a comment!