What do you do about your FOOD WASTE?

< old habit :: eyes are bigger than our appetites >

Last week, I caught my toddler throwing parts of her dinner on the floor (a.k.a. “feeding the cat”).  My reaction: “We do not waste food! Food is precious!”  As I made this statement, I became keenly aware of the moldy bread and spoiled hummus that I threw out earlier that day.  As the primary shopper of my house, I’m the one responsible for controlling how much food we start out each week.  Despite my mantra to my toddler, I struggle with keeping food waste under control.

In the US, the price of industrial food (corn, soy, meat, etc.) is significantly low, making it hard to see its inherent value.  Stores design their layouts to make us feel like there is an abundance available at our fingertips.  We’re familiar with the displays of fresh berries, lush melons and colorful fruit in the produce section, the never-ending meat cases and the entire aisle dedicated to frozen “treats”.  How often do you leave a grocery store slightly disoriented, wondering about the bill or how you ended up with so many bags of food?

Why Does this Matter?

The truth is, most Americans waste a lot of food (as much as 40-50%) and don’t think of it as a precious resource.  This is roughly 20 pounds of food per person per month.  An American wastes ten times the amount of food compared to a person living in Southeast Asia.  It’s hard to grasp that simultaneously in other parts of our world, famine grips more than 20 million people, now more than any other time since World War II.  Most of the food we throw out ends up in landfills, where it cannot be composted and instead produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than carbon dioxide.  

> new habit :: reflect & then act like your grandma or a restaurant chef <

Okay, so we can all confess to having bigger eyes than appetites when we make food purchases.  Where do we begin when it comes to breaking this habit?  Start with your trash can.  What type of foods do you have a habit of throwing away?  Is it a few take-out containers or fresh produce?   Review your week and determine how many meals you prepare at home, versus outside the home.  This will help you think in terms of meals, not just food.  Be realistic about what time you have for meal preparation and execution.  It might take a few weeks to get a sense of your patterns.  

After you’ve assessed your food waste, try one of these tips on your next trip to the store:

  1. Make frequent, smaller trips.  Researchers at Cornell discovered that families that made weekly trips to the store actually wasted less food than those who made monthly ones.     

  2. Avoid the temptation of bulk / high volume stores.  These same researchers reported that families that shopped in bulk stores actually ended up wasting more food.  These stores tempt us to buy more than we normally would, with the hope that we will save time and money (often it leads to more waste).  You need to know your habits before shopping here.   For instance, if you cook rice every day for dinner, then buying rice in bulk might be a great way to save on food and packaging waste.  But if you are buying a “family-size” tray of frozen lasagna and you dislike eating leftovers, then you probably won't finish the whole package, no matter what the cost savings.

  3. Think like your grandparents or a restaurant chef - Time to channel your inner frugal shopper!  My grandma never went to the store without a list and a plan for her meals.  Maybe there is someone in your life who has inspired you in the same way.  Or you can think like a chef.  For a restaurant, food waste is disastrous for the bottom line.  Chefs are picky at the market and look for high quality ingredients and ways to use them up completely.  Yet they are also risk-averse, pausing to study up on how to cook and utilize an ingredient before making a purchase.

Being a smart shopper is the first line of defense against food waste.  Share your shopping strategy tips.   And maybe we can all treat food as something good and precious.  

Written by Candice Gormley

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