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What a waste

ALL SECTIONS

ALL SECTIONS

— April 29, 2017

What a waste

  • A lot of potentially edible food goes right into the trash.
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Imagine filling several canvas bags full of fruits and vegetables, organic milk, grass-fed beef, and whole grains…and tossing one-third of this bounty into the garbage can before leaving the supermarket. Sounds absurd, right? It’s happening in households all over the country. In the United States, 31% of all food grown and raised—the equivalent of 133 billion pounds per year, according to the Department of Agriculture—is never eaten. Food waste happens at all stages of production from farms and food processing facilities to supermarkets and restaurants. Individuals don’t get away clean, either. The USDA notes that more than 20% of all food waste is generated at the consumer and household level. “It’s something we can all do something about,” says Elise Golan, director for sustainable development at the USDA. There is good reason to take action: Food scraps are the number one material sent to the landfills and accounts for 14% of all municipal solid waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In landfills, food waste contributes to the production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. And, as Golan points out, “All of the resources that are used to produce food—land, water, pesticides, fertilizers, labor—are essentially wasted when we throw food away.”

As awareness of the impact of food waste grows, so do efforts aimed at reducing the problem. Golan suggests embracing the World War I motto: “Buy [food] with thought, cook it with care, eat less wheat and meat, buy local foods, serve just enough, use what is left.” “There are lots of things we can do in our own kitchens that go a long way to reducing food waste,” she says.

Make a Plan

Reducing food waste starts with being more thoughtful about the foods you purchase and prepare. At the beginning of each week, write a meal plan that takes advantage of foods already in your refrigerator and pantry; using those foods before buying more will reduce waste. At the market, stick to a list and avoid impulse purchases that don’t fit into the plan (and are more likely to go to waste).

Eat Smart

Overfilling dinner plates often leads to uneaten food being scraped into the trash. Instead, dish out smaller servings and encourage guests to serve up their own seconds. If there are leftovers, serve them the following night or freeze for dinner at a later date. Golan also encourages consumers to learn how to store foods to extend their shelf life. The USDA, in partnership with Cornell University, developed a FoodKeeper app (foodsafety.gov/keep/foodkeeper app) with a searchable database of more than 500 foods along with cooking and storage tips. “Learning about the best ways to store food can help reduce waste,” she says. “People forget that when you buy something, you don’t have to eat it right away.”

Embrace “Ugly” Foods USDA produce grading standards are very strict, according to Emily Broad Leib, director of the food law and policy clinic, and assistant clinical professor, at Harvard Law School. “Foods have to be in perfect condition and perfectly shaped ” she explains. The “ugly food” movement is gaining momentum, educating consumers about the importance of embracing less-than-perfect produce to keep it from being wasted. “We need to be putting it on people’s radar that these products taste just as good as picture-perfect produce,” Leib says. Wherever you shop for food, let those in charge of the produce know that you’re happy to buy crooked cucumbers, small apples, and peaches with a bruise

Support Businesses Focused on Waste Reduction: As awareness of food waste grows, more manufacturers, supermarkets and restaurants are taking action to reduce their impact. Actions such as reevaluating ordering procedures, improving storage practices and donating foods to hunger relief agencies help ensure that less food waste is going to the landfill and more is getting into the hands of those who can use it. “Consumers should ask, ‘What are you doing about food waste?” notes Leib. So far, four states—Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Connecticut—have passed food waste bans that restrict the amount of food waste businesses can send to landfills. Writing elected officials to encourage similar bans in your state can have an impact. “It took a little while for recycling to take hold, now it’s the standard,” Leib says. “That’s where we need to get with food.”

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