I confess: I have wasted food in my lifetime. And, so have you. Admit it. Remember the moldy cheese you found lurking in the back of the fridge or the limp lettuce hiding in the crisper? All of us has tossed, thrown out or disposed of food that was uneaten at one point or another. We may even tell ourselves that our food waste is “not a big deal” since grocery store shelves remain stocked and restaurant robust portion sizes still exist.
However, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a goal of cutting the amount of food Americans waste by 50% by 2030. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture estimates Americans waste 133 billion pounds of food annually or 31% of the total food supply. This not only drives up the cost of food and missed opportunities to feed the hungry but also contributes to greenhouse gases when it winds up in landfills.
Here are more facts on food wastage:
- The average U.S. family of four wastes between $1,350 to $2,275 of food each year. That averages out to be 36 pounds of food per person wasted each month at the retail and consumer levels.
- Since the 1970’s, the amount of food we throw out has increased by 50%.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables have the largest disposals, then dairy, followed by meat/poultry/fish.
- Food waste is the largest portion of solid waste in our landfills.
- The average American consumer throws out 10 times the amount of food compared to a consumer in Southeast Asia.
- We could feed 25 million Americans if we wasted just 15% less food.
We can do better than this. As a nation, educating ourselves on what we can do to cut down on wasted food will immensely benefit future generations to come, when it is predicted there will be 9 billion people to feed in the world by 2050. Here are some ways we can all do our part to reduce food waste:
- Shop wisely – Plan meals ahead and stick to a shopping list when at the grocery store. Buying in bulk is not always beneficial unless you use all of it. Strive to buy only what you need and what you will eat.
- Eating out – Restaurants notoriously provide large portions, which often don’t get completely eaten and subsequently, get discarded. Consider sharing meals, taking any leftovers home and cutting back on the frequency of eating out.
- Inspect your refrigerator and cupboards – Before grocery shopping, always do an inventory of what you already have on hand. This avoids overbuying and saves you money in the process too.
- Make use of leftovers – You didn’t eat all of last night’s meal? No problem. Have it again within a day or two to save money and avoid throwing it out.
- Check expiration dates – Know when perishable foods will expire and use them before that date avoiding food waste. Have a “first in, first out” rule where you rotate food, using the older dated food first.
- Create new uses for excess food – Have leftover bread? Make croutons. Fruit that needs to be used? Add it to a smoothie. Too much rice? Add to a soup or stew.
- Talk to your grandparents or great-grandparents – People who lived during the Great Depression knew food was precious and didn’t take it for granted. They can tell you how they conserved food and how very little food was wasted back then.
- Here’s my favorite – For one week, skip going to the grocery store and eat only what you have on hand in your refrigerator and cupboards. Doing so will dramatically clean out excess food, save money and forces you to get creative in using up food on hand.
Tomorrow is the beloved American holiday Thanksgiving. This year, as you gather with your family and friends around a table full of food, pause and reflect on how blessed our country is to have such an abundance and variety to choose from. Food is a precious resource and one not to waste. The more we appreciate it, the less we will take it for granted. The less food we waste, the more food there is to feed others around the world. Starting today, become more mindful about buying only what you really need at the grocery store, using up the food you have at home and throwing out as little as possible. Live by the mantra, “waste not, want not.”