In my spare time, I’ve been reading chef Dan Barber’s The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food (review coming soon!). I love Barber’s sustainable approach to eating. From a dietitian’s perspective, it is a style of dining that is healthy for the body and for the planet.
In an early chapter, Barber tells the story of farmer Klaas Martens who, at a meeting of 12 of the greatest farming minds in the world, asked the other guests, “When do you start raising a child?”
I set my book down to consider this question. I had no idea what the answer might be. I debated potential answers for several minutes before giving up.
It turns out, Martens was referring to a Mennonite belief that we start raising children 100 years before they are born. The Mennonites believe that the environment changes based on how we treat the land and its creatures well before a child (or even the child’s parents) are born.
This made me think about how the standard American diet impacts our environment, and about several discussions I had related to food waste with instructors and peers during my dietetics education.
While I knew food waste was a problem, I had no idea of its magnitude until dietetics school. These days, I make much more of an effort to reduce food waste in my home.
Why should this issue be important to you? Food waste has major social, environmental, and economic implications for our country and for the world.
Nearly 15 percent of households in the U.S. are faced with food insecurity; yet, Americans waste roughly 20 pounds of food per U.S. citizen per month!
Globally, the United Nations predicts that the world food supply will need to grow by more than 70 percent by 2050 to feed the growing population. A worldwide decrease in food waste can help offset some of these production demands.
Did you know that more than 97 percent of the food we waste goes to landfills? Once there, it is continuously covered with more trash, which cuts off oxygen to the decomposing food. The end result is methane, which is approximately 21 percent more damaging to the ozone layer than carbon dioxide.
American households spent an average of 9.9 percent of income on food in 2010, and this figure has remained relatively stable since then. American consumers wasted 90 billion pounds of food, which represents 21 percent of the total food supply, in 2010.
Let’s figure out how much this might cost the average American household per year. The average household spent $6,686 on food in 2010, based on an average household income of $67,530. Assuming all households wasted 21 percent (because I am not a math major), the average household wasted $1,404 in food in 2010!
If the grim facts about the impacts of food waste on our ozone layer didn’t scare you, or if the sad truth about food waste relative to the number of hungry people in this country didn’t get you right in the feels, then hopefully you will take action based on the weight of your pocketbook.
Now for some happy news: There are many ways you can reduce food waste. Here are 15 ways to get started.
1. Clean out your cabinets, fridge, and freezer. Yes, this is counterintuitive when the point is to reduce waste, but you can better manage your kitchen inventory when your cabinets aren’t cluttered with jars of dressing that expired 5 years ago.
2. Take inventory before you shop. This will prevent you from buying duplicate items that may go to waste later.
3. Use a chalkboard or a dry erase board to create a leftovers list. As you wrap up leftovers and place them in storage, write the recipe name, the approximate number of servings, and the date on your board. Cross off the item or update the quantity as you take leftovers from storage.
4. Plan your meals based on items you need to use. If I have extra carrots, I might plan a carrot side dish or a stew as I sit down and write out dinner menus for the week.
5. Do you have fruits that are a bit past their prime? Wash, dry, and freeze them, and use them in smoothies later! Peel your bananas first.
6. Help your little guys out. I noticed during a plate waste study in my foodservice rotation that whole apples and oranges were among the most wasted items for elementary and middle school students. Several kids reported that they’d be more likely to eat them if they were sliced.
P.S. Here are some tips to prevent apples from browning, if your kids are as weirded out by brown apples as mine.
7. Sharpen your knife skills (pun intended). The USDA cites excessive trimming as a cause of food waste among consumers. YouTube has hundreds of free videos to help you up your chopping game.
8. If you are throwing out your milk because the “Best if Used By” date has passed, then you are likely wasting perfectly good milk. Here is a guide to decoding expiration lingo.
9. Create a composte pile! Unlike food waste that ends up in landfills, compost does not produce methane gas. It can also help you to grow healthier veggie, fruit, and herb plants at home! Here is some info to get you started.
10. Repurpose scraps. From watermelon rind pickles to carrot top pesto to bone broth, there is no shortage of ways to use all parts of your food!
11. Pour or measure extra tomato paste, broths, or sauces into clean ice cube trays, freeze them, and pop the frozen cubes into labeled baggies. A standard ice cube tray makes 1 ounce cubes, which equals 2 tablespoons. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of broth or sauce, you would need 8 cubes.
12. Some research suggests that shopping 2-3 times per week is less wasteful than fewer, larger grocery missions. That said, if you are someone who frequently impulse buys, or if you get sucked in by sample stations and promo booths, more frequent shopping may create greater waste. Know your grocery habits, and plan accordingly.
13. Involve your kids in meal planning. Use phrases like, “we can have carrots or beans with dinner tonight. Which one would you like?” Kids eat more of the foods on their plates if adults consider their preferences.
14. Store your food properly! Here is a nifty guide to storing more than 100 different foods!
15. Measure out ingredients and follow instructions carefully at least the first couple of times you a new recipe! Poor texture, excessive or insufficient moisture, or overseasoning contribute to food waste in the kitchen.
I’d be lying if I said that we were successful in implementing all 15 of these changes 100% of the time, but the extra effort is making a difference in our home!
How about you, friends? Any other tips for reducing food waste?