Wasted

January 9, 2012 at 8:30 pm 6 comments

Alright folks, I need to take a moment to get up on my soapbox, the one with the podium. It’s not about politics or religion. It’s not healthcare, education or immigration. But it is definitely about a part of the American way of life which we cannot continue to ignore. It’s about a habit we’ve grown into as a society that our great-grandparents would have cringed at. It’s not prolific tattoos or baggy jeans. It’s not fast driving or talking on cell phones during dinner.

No, it’s wasting food.

During the two World Wars, wasting food in the United States was high on the list of social sins. In fact, one could say that wasting food was close to treason. Ok, that may be my own historical embellishment, but it is not far off when you consider that the American people were asked to abide by rations on sugar, wheat and meat in order to “save it for the troops,” and to not waste a morsel of what they did take home. Our grandmothers cooked, canned and cured every edible scrap they could get their hands on.

Somehow, over the last six decades, however, we seem to have forgotten that NOT wasting food used to be an act of patriotism in this country, and we now seem to carry an air of entitlement to waste. Whether it is kids in a school cafeteria, professionals in the corporate work place, a family out to dine at a restaurant or you and me at our own kitchen tables, Americans throw away 40% of the food we produce. FORTY percent. For a nation that generally claims we need to increase agricultural yields in order to grow enough to feed the world, we might do better to take an inward look at our wasteful gluttony first. The insanity of it really is mind blowing if you think about it for more than thirty seconds.

Given my wholesale criticism of all of us here, I will sadly acknowledge the three fingers pointing back at me. A few weeks ago, after a crazy month of meetings, dining out and otherwise ignoring our kitchen, I went through our fridge and threw away an embarrassing amount of food. This is not the norm for me these days – I have worked hard to shop for what we need and not in excess. Unfortunately, as a colleague sometimes jokes, that week I had “really expensive compost.” Fortunately, I am able to compost most of our food waste, but it still does not sit any better with my sense of responsibility. A responsibility for caring for the land (that produces our food), the people (who tend and harvest it) and the resources of this planet (extracted to process, package and truck it all)

In May 2011, I participated in an EPA webinar on food waste.  It was definitely not the first time I’d thought about food waste, but author Jonathan Bloom had some excellent commentary, which he shares with folks on the blog Wasted Food and in his book American Wasteland. On the same webinar I learned about an awesome marketing campaign against waste in the UK. Called Love Food Hate Waste, this creative effort uses humorous imagery and blunt facts to remind food lovers that we’ve got to cut our wasteful ways.

Not wanting to be a complete Debbie Downer on this, here are some ideas for reducing food waste – recycled, revamp and regurgitated – from others to me to you:

  • Reconsider bulk. I’m not talking about the bulk bins at your local co-op. I’m talking about the Costco kind of bulk. The kind where you buy a (sometimes ridiculously) large quantity of food – amount uncontrollable by the purchaser – because it seems like a good deal, then end up throwing half of it away because you are unable to consume it all in time. Consider instead finding a smaller volume of those perishables from a more sustainable source. Then pay the producer (probably the same as you would at the Big Box) so they can make a living. And finally, waste none.
  • Shop more frequently, buy less. This is a super hard concept for Americans in particular I think, but it fits in with the first suggestion. We like the shopping carts large enough to haul an SUV worth of groceries, but what we end up taking home largely becomes trash. Doesn’t that seem silly? We pay money for food so we can pay more money to have it hauled away on Tuesdays? Consider buying your fruits, veggies, dairy, meat and other perishables on a more frequent basis and then use them up before heading out again.
  • Remember what’s in your fridge. Alright, this one is a “personal experience” idea. My husband and I were members of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm for several summers and would often get way more food than we could deal with in a week. In addition to not knowing what to do with all of it before the next box came, I also struggled with remembering what the heck was in the drawers and on the shelves in my fridge. Enter magnetic white board. Left over from my days in the college dorm, this went up on the fridge door and I now track everything in the fridge (at least in the summer when we have lots of fresh produce from the garden and farmers markets). I kid you not, if you keep it updated, it will help with reducing waste, as well as meal planning. Not to mention that it will help reduce the energy wasted every time you stand there with the door wide open deciding what to eat.
  • Leftovers – eat ’em or freeze. If you and your family cannot eat leftovers within a few days (or get “leftover fatigue” after a few meals), consider freezing a portion. For example, I love to make soup in the summer when the ingredients are fresh from my garden, but my husband doesn’t like hot soups in the heat. So, I make the soups, put a few portions in the fridge for me and freeze the rest for fall and winter. We use produce in season, reduce waste and have homemade frozen dinners ready in the cold months. Triple win.

So, those are some of my tips for keeping us moving down the path of less food waste. What are your ideas? How will you use 2012 as the year to be a better steward of your food?

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Blue Cheese and Crispy Sage You say tomato, I say tomato soup please!

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Wendy  |  January 9, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    So true!! Did u watch The Big Waste last night on Food TV? I DVR’d it and want to watch it with Mike. I too have to admit to tossing out food. I plan to shop more often and menu plan and only buy what we need for those meals. I will let you know what I think of the show after we watch it.

    Reply
  • 2. Rebecca Wood  |  January 9, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Great post that needs to be said. One solution to the Costco problem is to shop with another household and split the bulk purchase. I have an app on my phone called Out of Milk to keep track of what you have in your pantry and for lists. I have the free version.

    Reply
    • 3. Emily  |  January 9, 2012 at 9:32 pm

      Thanks for the comment! The app sounds like a fantastic resource – here’s the link for anyone who wants to add it to their phone: http://www.outofmilkapp.com

      Reply
  • 4. Sandy  |  January 10, 2012 at 7:49 am

    Great, great article Emily. I too am trying to reduce waste by stir frying or freezing vegetables that are on the “edge”. This would be great material to bring up if anyone’s place of employment has a “green team” session to also get the word out.

    Reply
  • 5. Marilyn G.  |  January 16, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Great Post Emily!!!!. I was just “complaining” to my son about this very topic: FOOD WASTE. I make larger than we can eat amounts of such things as Chili, Stew, soups, etc. that he really likes, only to end up throwing some away sometimes. Because he doesn’t want it the net day. I freezxe portions too, but he forgets that they are in there, and I usually eat them Hethinks he doesn’t like frozen stuff, but happily eats them when I dont say they have been frozen. I like the white board idea. Think I wqill get one for the freezer. Thanks for your good ideas!!!! I’d like your tomato soup redipe. It sounds wonderful!! Marilyn G.

    Reply
  • 6. Ode to compost « foodaccordingtoemily  |  March 30, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    […] a good work-life balance and providing space for a staff garden. As part of our effort to reduce our waste and to produce free compost for the garden, we also collect our food scraps during the warm months […]

    Reply

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