Food for Thought & Your Stomach

     America wastes 160 billion dollars on 130 billion pounds of food every year. These are not light numbers we throw out… as easily as we throw out our food.  Attached to these numbers come with concrete consequences to the land we are living on.

     These numbers tie with our misconceptions (and therefore habits) of our food, as well as our inability to tangibly see the consequences of our actions. We have a misconception that after the date printed on our food label, the food is no longer edible.  This is WRONG!  Companies take advantage of our confusion that comes with “best used by,” “sell by,” “packed on,” and random dates printed on our food so we can get rid of the old and buy new.  There is no federal mandate nor standardization regulating these labels while each company uses their own discretion on what date is acceptable for freshness. This “confusion” results in us buying and throwing away more at a much faster rate than if these labels never existed.

     However, there is a difference between peak quality and food safety. A lot of times the date printed signified peak quality which means freshest within the date range. This means it is still a perfectly fine to consume. The actual expiration date ranges from food to food as well as how we store them. More importantly, most food can be frozen past the expiration date and not lose its flavor and texture. You can read more about food safety & storage here.

What are the main consequences?

  1. Our wallets. Get a headcount of how many people will be joining your dinner table tonight and buy food only for those accounted for.  If there is a handful of leftover food, freeze it!  When you get in the habit of freezing and eating it later, it can replace buying prepackaged frozen food when grocery shopping. Household food accounts for half of all the food waste, so yes, your family's consumption and waste matters.

  2. Environmental consequences. Food waste produces a substantial amount of methane - a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide that causes substantial climate change.  Agriculture accounts for 70% of water usage in the world, so wasting food means wasting large amounts of water. To put into perspective, one glass of milk disposed equates to about a thousand liters of water wasted, while about 2 pounds of beef equates to 50 thousand liters of water.

  3. Our bodies. With excess consumption, we are cutting ourselves too much slack.. According to a study, holiday weight gain accounted for 60 to 70 percent of annual weight gain, and January exercises did not allow people to fully go back to their pre-holiday weight.

On a personal level, reducing food waste is one step we can take this holiday season to help your wallet, your body, and your mother Earth. On a bigger scheme of initiatives, USDA is doing a Food Waste Challenge in efforts to Reduce by redesigning storage, marketing, labeling, and cooking methods, Recover by connecting to food banks and hunger relief efforts, and Recycle to feed animals or create compost, bioenergy, and natural fertilizers. You can read more about the overall standards of reduce, reuse, and recycle here.