The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that the US throws away nearly 40% of its food. And a recent book, The Waste-free Kitchen, says that food waste in the US is up 50% since 1970. These numbers are staggering, especially when you think of how much money is being tossed away every single day. So we decided to take a look at why food is wasted and what we can do about cutting down on wasting so much food.
The types of food we waste the most
1st place Fruits and vegetables
2nd place Dairy products and bread
3rd place Meat
While meat is in third place, it actually has the biggest impact. By throwing out a hamburger, it’s the equivalent of taking a 90 minute shower in terms of the water it took to produce it – just think about that the next time you order a burger bigger than your appetite!
Why we throw away food:
- A lot of produce simply isn’t pretty enough for us picky US consumers. It actually never makes it to market, but instead gets tossed out or turned into the soil.
- Portion sizes have grown much bigger since the 70’s, plus many restaurants feature buffets which encourage people to take far more than they can consume.
- According to NRDC research, people are uncomfortable with empty white space, whether on a plate, in fridges or grocery carts. In fact there’s an urge to fill these spaces with food that we really don’t want or need.
- In our culture, throwing out food is acceptable.
What can we do?
- Shop sensibly. If you only need small amounts of fruits or veggies for a recipe, buy frozen versions or shop the salad bar.
- Shop conscientiously. Always prepare a shopping list and if you don’t think you will eat the fresh items in the near future then cross them off your list.
- Be realistic. While you think you might be able to cook a dozen things over the weekend, chances are you will run out of time and energy, so plan for that and you’ll waste a lot less fresh produce. You can always pack meat and bread in small portions and freeze them for another time.
- Write it down. If you conduct a “waste audit” even for a couple of weeks, you can pinpoint why you are throwing out food. Maybe it was on sale and you bought twice as much as usual, maybe you ate out more times than usual. Whatever the reason, once you add up the cost, you may think twice.
- Understand expiration dates. A “use by” or “best by” date is not set in stone. They are in fact a suggestion as to when the product will be at its best. There may be a slight change in taste, color or texture, but the product will not be “bad”. There’s a misunderstanding that when food is old that it will make you sick. The main reason for illness is pathogens like salmonella and E.coli that contaminate food at the farm or proceeding plants. You do however need to be careful of mold and rancid meat, oil or nuts (your nose will tell you).
- Get creative in the kitchen. There are lots of ways to use up produce in omelets, frittatas, tortillas or in fried rice and pasta salads. Left over cooked vegetables make a great “Bubble and Squeak” just check out recipes on Google, it’s delicious
Food for thought: The environmental impact on all this food waste is huge. About 70% of our water and 50% of our land is devoted to agriculture, so when we don’t consume that food we are wasting valuable resources—think about 33 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gases that are produced to grow the food we never eat!