Food production is the single biggest cause of deforestation, freshwater use, habitat and biodiversity loss. With all of the environmental costs of producing food, you’d think that we as global citizens could be better stewards of the food that ends up in our homes or on our plates at restaurants or on the dinner tables. However, 40% of the food we produce is going to waste in the US.
“Waste is sinful, criminal, and financially foolish.”
Quoted in “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste”, food waste costs us approximately $1 trillion dollars per year. That’s about 1.3 billion TONS of food. With nearly one billion people who are hungry in the world, the problem is not about producing more food, it’s about changing the systemic problem that is food waste in our countries.
So how can we waste less food, especially given it’s Thanksgiving this Thursday?
According to the documentary, we can waste less food by:
Many food vendors opt to throw away their food instead of donating their food at the end of the day. I think it’s because they fear that they could get sued for someone getting sick from their day-old food, but here’s a fun fact: the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act basically protects any establishment from civil or criminal liability if someone gets hurt or sick from donated food…so no excuses, food vendors and restaurant owners!
There’s a silly standard that the produce that ends up on our grocery store shelves must be perfect, and anything that has the slightest imperfections never even make it off the fields.
Every year 10 million tons of produce are not harvested.
Instead of tossing them, the otherwise produce that would get thrown away could be used to feed livestock instead of inefficiently using half of the corn yields to feed food animals.
Using food scraps for renewable energy through anaerobic digestion.
Let’s be real. Fossil fuels is no longer a long-term viable option. They are contributing to climate change; polluting our land, air, and water; and there is no unlimited supply. We need to explore other options for energy, and there have been incredible innovations in the clean energy world, but even more interesting, scientists are exploring creating renewable energy using food waste!
So what are some initiatives happening around the world? The documentary shared some examples:
- Toast Ale uses stale bread to help produce beer, and spent grains are used to feed livestock.
- Japan is giving food waste to livestock, and this has become so popular that they are exploring giving specific foods to pigs and tracking flavor profiles of the meat.
- Yoplait is taking whey byproduct from Greek yogurt production to anaerobic digestion to produce methane gas that powers a generator to produce electricity (closed loop system) for their building
- Samuel L. Green’s Edible Schoolyard in New Orleans, LA has an excellent program that incorporates community garden and environmental education to their students at an early age so children are taught where their produce comes from and learn to develop a healthy relationship to their food and the environment.
- South Korea implemented a policy where you weigh your food waste and pay for what you throw away as an effective strategy to tackle food waste in the country.
So we’ve seen some amazing ideas started at the community, organizational, state, and country levels, but what can you do as an individual?
Purchase only what you need when you go grocery shopping.
A helpful tip is to make a shopping list before you go shopping, and don’t go on an empty stomach (helps you avoid craving temptations heh)
Go for the “ugly” food!
So you found a bell pepper with an extra bulb or a slight dent, but you’re directly helping prevent this item from ending up getting tossed because you’re gonna make good use of it in your kitchen, right?! 😉
Imperfect Produce is one of the companies working to keep ugly foods out of landfills. You can also check out the farmers’ markets for some perfectly imperfect produce
Take home leftovers, and bring your own container if you can to avoid producing plastic waste 🙂
If you know you won’t eat it the next day, you can freeze it so you can eat it another day.
Trust yourself when it comes to your purchases with expiration dates.
Unless it’s a raw meat or dairy product, other foods typically last longer than their sell-by date, so do the smell test and eyeball your food to see if it still looks good so you don’t throw out perfectly good food!
We should be avoiding sending food waste to the landfills at all costs. It can take decades for that food to fully decompose. And while that happens, it is releasing methane gas into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Instead, compost these items–apple cores, meat bones, fruit peels, and more! More information about how to compost in NYC can be found here.
Upcycle food scraps.
You can also upcycle food scraps and use them for other purposes. Your eggshells can be used as a natural snail or slug repellent for your garden. The vegetable shavings could make for a great vegetable soup stock. The possibilities are endless.
As a society, it is our duty to be responsible for the food we produce and try to not be wasteful. There are plenty of opportunities to prevent food from ending up in the garbage, and all different levels of society are taking part in this #zerowaste movement to eliminate food from the waste stream, because it’s not only the reasonable thing to do, but it’s morally right (for people and for the environment) and because it’s financially the smart thing to do!
I’m keen to hear how your country is tackling food waste. Please leave your comments below so we can share these amazing initiatives!