Food For Thought- Wasting What We Could Be Eating

America, the land where everything is BIG.  From big cars, to big houses, to warehouse sized grocery stores, there’s one daunting aspect of American culture that is becoming debatably one of the biggest issues-food waste. From expired groceries, groceries on the shelves that just aren’t selling, to the excess of food we are throwing away in America is leaving us with quite the predicament, “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted”(fao.org). With the abundance of food that is almost always readily available in the United States, it can be easy to eat with your eyes when you’re at the grocery store or out to eat. Living in an era where you can drive up to a window and buy dinner for less than 5 dollars while forgetting that you have a bag of untouched produce at home, it’s no surprise that the United States is taking the lead in one of the highest countries for food waste. Maybe you went grocery shopping before you ate, maybe you decided to buy that extra gallon of milk so you don’t have to come back one measly day later, either way, we’ve all been guilty of throwing away barely touched foods.  

With 1/3 of the food in the United States going to waste every year and the ever-growing population of hungry people, the issue of food waste is becoming more prevalent everyday.  Sure, everyone would love to save a few hundred, or even thousand dollars not buying the food they will later not eat, but the excessive amount of food waste in America is affecting the environment, the economy, and even our neighboring countries.

Unfortunately, due to their shorter shelf life, fruits and vegetables have the highest waste rates of all the food categories according to the FDA.  Not too far behind fruits and veggies, “Households are wasting around 570,000 tonnes of fresh meat each year, with a value of £1,300 million, and nearly half of it could be used.”(Hird)  Sometimes you just don’t get around to preparing that dish you’ve been thinking about, or maybe your little one is refusing to eat the new produce you just bought home. Regardless, it can frustrating throwing away some of the most expensive items available at the grocery store like produce and meat.

Where is all this wasted food going you ask?

When looking at ways to reduce our food waste, we must look at where exactly food is being thrown away. Throwing away expired food or food we don’t want anymore isn’t the only aspect contributing to the frightening amount of food waste. Chances are, the food on your plate took a journey to get there, during that journey there are many opportunities for food to be discarded.  Figure1 represents where exactly in the process food is being thrown way along the supply chain. A bruised tomato might be discarded during the production of salsa, and a banana could be thrown away when being packaged from being squished. There are a ton of reasons perfectly edible foods don’t make it onto our plates.

food waste

Figure 1 

The Effect Food Waste is having on Mother Nature

With all this food being produced, and so much of it going to waste, Mother Nature is trying her best to keep up. However, that can be challenging when you have such a demanding crowd. The earth can only sustain to provide us with so much food at one time.  Whether it’s raising cattle or growing sweet corn, all living things need water, and with the massive amount of food being wasted, water is being wasted too, “the 1.3 billion tons of food wasted every year worldwide is 45 trillion gallons of water. This represents a staggering 24 percent of all water used for agriculture.”(Barclay)  To continue to provide the population with dinner on their plates, Mother Nature is being stretched dangerously thin, “And agriculture is already the world’s biggest user of freshwater: The sector accounts for 70 percent of all use around the world,”(Barclay).

Of course different agricultural practices have different effects on water conservation efforts. Some crops like millet don’t require much water, while sweet corn and almonds require lots of water for a bountiful harvest. The real water guzzling culprit of the agricultural industry is the livestock, “Meat production requires between 8 and 10 times more water than grain production, according to the WWAP” (Barclay).  Raising live stock requires tons of water because the animals need water to wash down all their grass and feed with, and unfortunately so much of this livestock that is consuming all this fresh water won’t even be consumed.

While water conservation is a great concern when it comes to food waste, there are other detrimental environmental effects that come along with food waste. The later the food is wasted, the greater impact it has on the environment. The energy used for, transporting, storing and cooking of the food all takes a toll on the environment and contributes to the rising levels of greenhouse emissions. Lots of food waste ends up in landfills that product excessive amounts of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, “For the uninitiated, excess amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane, CO2 and chlorofluorocarbons absorb infrared radiation and heat up the earth’s atmosphere, causing global warming and climate change.” (USDA)

MONEY

It’s a no brainer that when you waste food, you waste money.  It can be painful to throw away what was once a beautiful curly head of purple kale that is now a soggy, inedible and smelly rupture. According to the USDA, to feed a family of four on a “moderate” cost plan for one month averages at about $892.20, and that’s if you stick to a strict budget.  Not to mention that, “In 2010, $161 billion dollars of food went to waste.”(USDA) There’s a lot you could do with all that money that is being spent on wasted food!

Everyone needs food, water, and clean air to breathe, so how can reduce our food waste?  Here are a few easy tips to help you put some money back in your pockets and keep your planet clean as well!

1) Be a smart shopper

It can be almost too easy to buy more food than you need. Brands know how to grab your attention and how to get you to buy things you don’t actually need. Not to mention how the grocery store can turn into a battlefield when your little one is begging and crying to buy the newest brightly colored breakfast cereal with the adorable puppy on the box, even if you don’t need it, sometimes just saying yes and buying it is the easiest route. The solution to this problem? Always plan with a list! Planning what you need to make the meals you need to cook for the week can be a great tool. Making a list will prevent you from buying things you don’t need, which will save you money, time at the grocery store and food waste!  The phrase, “sorry, it’s not on the list” is also a great alibi when you tell your little one no to the cheese wiz.

2)What you’re buying matters

As we discussed before, certain foods have more of an effect on the environment than other foods because of the amount of water and energy they require.  For example, “Beef, the most commonly consumed ruminant meat, is resource-intensive to produce, requiring 20 times more land and emitting 20 times more GHGs per gram of edible protein than common plant proteins, such as beans, peas and lentils.”(Ranganath). By limiting our intake of these foods and replacing them with plant based substitutes not only are you reducing your carbon footprint but you also save money!  Livestock products like beef and chicken only stay good for so long but legumes and nuts have a prolonged shelf life and can be prepared to eat within minutes!

3)Food Scraps can be precious, use them wisely!  

Don’t throw away the top of that onion! Vegetable scraps can be used to make a delicious budget friendly vegetable broth!  Regrowing your own produce is super easy and will save you money! Check out these awesome tips on how to regrow herbs and vegetables from using scraps!  https://www.gardentech.com/blog/gardening-and-healthy-living/growing-food-from-kitchen-scraps. Looking for more ways to put your kitchen scraps to good use? Coffee grounds, banana peels, egg shells, green tea and cooking water are just a few everyday kitchen scrap that will help your plants grow and flourish from their natural properties!  

4)Meet your new best friend, your freezer

If it isn’t apparent enough yet, here at Rollingreens we are big fans of the freezer section, and it’s not just because it’s the home of our delicious Millet Tots, the freezer section is one of the hidden gems of the grocery store because of the diversity of foods that will last way longer than their fresh counterpart. Since produce is so expensive and can go bad quickly, buying your fruits and vegetables frozen can save you money and guarantee that you’ll have vegetables on deck at anytime!  Check out our blog post that uncovers the myths about the freezer section- https://rollingreens.com/healthy-choices-do-exist-in-the-freezer-section/

5)Understand what the dates on your food means

There’s a big difference between the sell by date and the “good by” date. Often times grocery stores will take more caution and throw away foods that are getting closer to their “sell by” date when in reality, the foods are completely safe and edible. Use your sight and smell to determine what’s good and whats spoiled.

6)Preservation

The art of the pickling, fermenting and preserving foods has been around for thousands of years, so why stop now?! Pickling, fermenting, curing and dehydrating foods is a great way to reduce waste and try out some new recipes as well! Fermented foods have tremendous health benefits, they promote healthy digestion and a healthy gut. It’s also a great excuse to get your friends and family who claim they “can’t cook” in the kitchen because there is no cooking required!  Start with something simple and try making your own pickles, if you feel like progressing try making your own kimchi, making your own banana chips, or canning your own tomatoes.

7)It’s on the inside that matters

Don’t be so focused on the outward looks of your produce, just because an apple has a few scuffs on it doesn’t mean it should be tossed! Often times Farmers Markets will have “Ugly Bins” where they put produce that has a few bruises or scratches on them. Not only are the products in the ugly bin cheaper, but they’re just as good as the full price produce! Usually the “ugly” produce simply gets thrown away, but there is no reason for that. If a tomato is bruised, simply cut around the bruised area and enjoy the rest of the tomato!

8)Compost

Composting is a great way to put your food scraps to good use by turning them into food for plants.  Contact your local government and find out if there is a composting station near you! If not, you can purchase a fairly inexpensive countertop composter.

9)An Organized Fridge= A Happy Fridge

Keeping your fridge free of clutter will not only give you peace of mind every time you open it, it will also prevent you from buying food you don’t need. We’ve all slapped ourselves for running out to the grocery store to get something, only later to find the cilantro you just ran out for is actually just hiding behind a gallon of milk in the back of the fridge.  Unless your family really has a thing for cilantro, more likely than not one of those bunches will go to waste.

10)Get Creative!

Have some squash that’s on its last few days? Make soup!  Browning bananas? Make banana bread! Avocados that are too brown to eat?  Kick back and relax and make a homemade face mask!

CITATIONS

Barclay, E. (2013, June 06). When You Waste Food, You’re Wasting Tons Of Water, Too. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/06/06/189192870/when-you-waste-food-youre-wasting-tons-of-water-too

Hird, V. (2014, March 19). The meat we eat … or don’t eat. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/19/meat-dairy-waste

Key facts on food loss and waste you should know! (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/

Ranganathan, J. (n.d.). How to Sustainably Feed 10 Billion People by 2050, in 21 Charts. Retrieved from https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/12/how-sustainably-feed-10-billion-people-2050-21-charts

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm