The Problem With Food Waste (And What You Can Do About It)
March is #NationalNutritionMonth and the topic for this year is “Go Further with Food”, challenging us to look at food through a much greater lens.
Americans have a major problem with wasting food. Due to high standards for palatability, low food prices, and plain old lack of education about efficient use, consumers regularly throw away foods that could actually be eaten. In fact, experts estimate that between 30-50% of all food in this country goes to waste. This tendency toward casual disposal creates some serious consequences.
First, wasting food comes at a high financial cost. The average American family’s annual expenditure on discarded produce alone is around $1,600 ($160 billion nationwide). Reducing your household’s food waste could add back hundreds of dollars to your grocery budget. Imagine being handed a check for $1,600 in extra groceries each year!
In addition to our wallets, another unwitting victim of American food waste is the environment. The inflated scale of food production required to keep up with waste levels causes damage to the earth in numerous ways, from greenhouse gas emissions to staggering water usage. Wasted labor and other resources only add to the unfortunate equation.
With all the undesirable effects of food waste, what can the average American do to conserve? Plenty!
Our top recommendations for going further with food in your home.
Make friends with your freezer: Not all types of food preservation are created equal. After all, you may not want to spend an entire weekend canning or drying excess fresh produce. But the simple solution to longer-lasting food may be right under your nose—or right under your refrigerator: your freezer. The list of freezable foods may surprise you. Check here for examples.
Buy less, shop more: There’s something to be said for a daily grocery run, as practiced in other countries with far less food waste than the U.S. Counterintuitive as it may sound, shopping more frequently can actually help you buy less in the long run. Purchasing enough for a day or two (rather than a week or more) allows you the freedom to buy only what you need for the short-term.
Meal plan: Grocery shopping without a list is not only a classic setup for impulse buys, it’s a likely culprit behind over-purchasing. Meal planning can help. Take time to outline the meals you want to purchase, perhaps using a website or app like Mealtime, The Scramble, Relish, Cooksmarts, or eMeals. Doing so may prevent you from filling your cart with non-essentials that will ultimately go to waste. Contact Uhling Consulting for additional assistance with meal planning strategies.
Use your senses: While expiration dates have their place in helping consumers determine food safety, they’re not an exact science. The milk in your fridge isn’t a ticking time bomb that will sour when the clock strikes twelve. Rather than religious adherence to expiration dates alone, use your senses to assess whether a food really needs to be thrown away.
Use bulk bins…but not to buy bulk: Clever marketing has titled self-service areas as “bulk bins” to encourage shoppers to purchase in large quantities. But you don’t have to use them to buy in bulk. Instead, take advantage of this section of the store by purchasing the exact amount of dry goods you need. You may be delighted to realize that it’s up to you how much pasta, rice, or even spices you prefer.
Compost (or let someone do it for you): If you’re committed to composting, give yourself a pat on the back! This amazing re-use system takes food scraps and turns them into rich soil perfect for gardening. If composting sounds like a struggle, however, consider joining a program like Recycled City, a service that handles all its messier aspects.
Try a produce program: Ever wonder what happens to all the produce grocery stores can’t sell? Through programs like POWWOW (Produce On Wheels Without Waste) or Market on the Move, you can take it home for a fraction of the in-store price—a definite win for food conservation.
For additional tips, recipes and reviews…
Check out 6 Ways to Turn One Meal Into Two.
Yummy Recipe: Warm Chicken Salad with Asparagus and Creamy Dill Dressing.
Check out this documentary: Dive! (2009). In this enlightening film, documentarian Jeremy Seifert, a long-time dumpster diver, sets out to expose the enormity of the scale of food waste, both from consumers and grocery stores, in his southern California neighborhood.