Earth Week: Reducing Food Waste
In honor of Earth Day, we challenge you to be thoughtful about the amount of food your household throws out and encourage you to explore some solutions to reduce food waste. Currently, over 1/3 of all food produced globally is wasted. This results in a massive 1.3 billion tons of wasted food each year. This wasted food also equals wasted resources, as 25% of the world’s fresh water supply is used for growing foods that will never be eaten, and a geographic area larger than China is used to produce food that will end up thrown away. If food waste were a country it would be the third largest contributor of greenhouse gases, with emissions rates falling just behind China and the United States.
In the United States, more than half of the food wasted is wasted in the home, from throwing out foods we don’t finish at mealtimes, tossing things once they’ve hit the “best by” date, and forgetting about the produce we ambitiously purchased and stashed in the produce bin until it gets slimy and weird looking. The average US household throws away $2,275 of food each year, totaling about $165 billion of food waste annually. If we repurposed this food to feed the hungry, we could provide a 2,000 calorie diet for approximately 274 million people. We can do better.
As the majority of food waste is occurring in our homes, I thought I would share some ways my household is currently reducing food waste. We invite you to try out one or more of the following:
1) Shop smart: Reducing food waste begins with not purchasing more food than your household needs. Go in with a list and think through ways you can re-purpose and utilize leftovers. One of our favorite ways to use up leftover veggies is by making Korean beef lettuce wraps and using up whatever we happen to have in the fridge: cucumbers, zucchini, mushrooms, avocado, cabbage, sprouts, carrots, radishes, peppers, and leftover roasted veggies are all delicious additions to these wraps. While shopping, see if your grocer has a discounted produce section. For example, QFC and Fred Meyer offer discounts on slightly browned bananas or softened apples. Not only are you saving these foods from the dumpster, they are available at a reduced price and are perfect for things like baking and smoothies.
2) Store foods to extend longevity and encourage consumption. Improperly stored produce spoils faster so make sure to store your foods in the right place. Start with removing rubber bands and/or twist ties and separating bananas, as bananas bunched together will ripen more quickly than ones you separate. Stone fruits like avocados/peaches and citrus fruits can be stored on the counter, but if you think you won’t eat them quickly and you'd like to slow down the ripening process you can store them in the fridge. Foods like garlic, onions, winter squash, and potatoes are best kept in a dark cool location, such as a pantry. Most other fruits and veggies should be stored in the fridge. Storing cut up produce and leftovers in glass containers will make them last longer as glass won’t breathe like plastic. Greens in plastic containers will last longer if you store them upside down. If you tend to forget about the items in your refrigerator produce bins, rethink your storage and keep them in a more visible place on a shelf and put other items like ready-to-drink beverages in your bins. Also, having a fruit bowl on your counter will help your family be more likely to eat up that produce.
3) Think before you toss: Can the food be rescued or re-purposed? For example, you can chop up wilted herbs/herb stems, add a little olive oil, and freeze in ice cube trays so they’ll be ready to add to your favorite sauces. You can save veggie scraps and bones to make homemade stock. The crumbs in the bottoms of bags of cereal and chips make great crunchy toppings for oatmeal, yogurt, or salads. Also, best by dates are an unregulated term and don’t necessarily indicate food spoilage. To verify how long your food is, check out the eat by date website: https://www.eatbydate.com/. Also, you can grow your own garden from scraps: place carrot tops or the end pieces of green onions, celery, bok choy, lettuce or cabbage heads in a shallow clear dish with 1-2" of water. Replace the water every few days until your foods start to sprout, then you can plant them in your garden. You can also plant potatoes and garlic cloves that have started to sprout. If you are throwing food away, try to compost, or throw food scraps and pizza boxes in your yard waste bin instead of the garbage can.
4) Use a smaller plate: One way to waste less food is to serve yourself less food. We are visual creatures who will typically fill empty white space on our plates. Serving yourself on a smaller dish will result in you taking less food without thinking about it. Then, you will be more likely to have more food to use as leftovers for your next meal. Don’t have enough leftovers for an entire meal? Add some items with protein and fiber to increase satisfaction and satiety. For example, your half portion of leftover chicken and rice will be much more filling with the addition of an apple and a yogurt. Additionally, if you are always struggling to eat up all the food you purchase or prepare, you could be unintentionally overconsuming food. Perhaps through this process you will discover that you don’t need to purchase as many groceries as you previously thought.
5) Embrace ugly food: Approximately 20 billion pounds of produce go to waste each year because they are “ugly”. Grocers have strict size and cosmetic standards for produce and unfortunately the foods that don’t make the cut are often wasted. You can rescue these ugly foods by subscribing to Imperfect Produce, which rescues produce that grocers won’t sell as well as other short-dated pantry items. They let you customize your boxes so you are guaranteed to only receive foods you will actually use. You can choose small, medium or large boxes, go all fruit, all veggies, or choose a combo. We’ve only used Imperfect Produce for a few months and have already saved 159 pounds of diverted produce, 6,360 gallons of water, and 542 pounds of CO2 emissions to date. To try Imperfect Produce and receive $10 off your first order, visit http://imprfct.us/lRh2h.
I hope this post inspired you to explore some new solutions to reduce food waste. We encourage you to share your progress and tag us on social media using hashtag #redefinewhatspossible. You can find us at @experiencemomentumnutrition on Instagram or in the private group Experience Momentum Nutrition on Facebook.