7 Ways to Cut Your Food Waste
Food waste is an enormous problem in this country—we waste enough food to fill the entire Rose Bowl in Pasadena every single day. I’m from the Pasadena area, so I know how big the Rose Bowl is, but if you can’t wrap your mind around that estimate, consider this: More than 40% of the food produced for human consumption in the U.S. will never be eaten. Food waste is on the rise; it has increased by about 50% since 1974. We are wasting more than 1,400 calories per person per day—that’s almost enough to feed an entire person!
Sadly, along with every pound of food tossed out comes wasted resources, as well as increased burdens on the planet. Wasted food squanders 300 million barrels of oil per year (4% of the total), along with water, soil, and inputs (i.e., pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer) to grow the food. It also fills up landfills (about 18% is related to food waste) and produces methane as it decomposes. Even worse, we waste so much food in the face of so much hunger. The annual food waste—just at the retail and consumer level—in high-income countries equals the entire annual food production in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Food waste occurs on every level of the food chain—at the farm, manufacturing, supermarkets, restaurants, and home kitchens. But you can do your best to start a zero food waste policy in your own home, with these 7 tips.
- Value Your Food. Why has food waste skyrocketed? Because food is so cheap; it is at 10% of our total household expenditures, which is very low compared to many countries. Because it’s cheap, we don’t think twice about throwing it out. So, change your dynamic and honor where your food comes from, realizing that someone worked hard to get that food to your plate. This is especially true for animal food, as an animal’s life was forfeited for your plate. Don’t let it go to waste.
Ask for smaller portions at restaurants—it’s good for your pocketbook and waistline, too.
- Cut Your Portion Size. One of the main reasons we waste food is because our portion sizes have blossomed to the point that we can’t (and shouldn’t) eat the whole thing—this happens at restaurants, cafeterias, schools, and hospitals. Try to order small plates, a cup of soup rather than a bowl, or split something with your dining partner. At the very least, pack a doggy bag to take home.
- Lose the “Perfection” Principle. We have now grown accustomed to foods that are so pristinely perfect—that if it has the tiniest imperfection we won’t purchase them. Do we really thing that every apple grows from the tree without a blemish, or that every tomato comes from the vine without a scar? If you try growing your own food, you’ll see just how hard this is to do, and why so much food is wasted before it even gets to the supermarket or restaurant. Interestingly, research shows that imperfect produce—with scabs or scars on the surface—may have even higher antioxidant levels because the plant had to mount a defense. Don’t stop there; remember to use the whole plant—root, stem, leaf, and flower—as much as possible.
- Plan Your Meals. Creating a weekly menu and shopping list, and cooking just enough food that can be consumed without going bad can really help cut down food waste. When you get home from the supermarket, inventory your refrigerator and plan to use the ingredients that expire more quickly—lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, berries, dairy products—before turning to those that have a longer expiration date, such as carrots, potatoes, and celery. Freeze items, such as meats, poultry and fish, if you won’t be using them before they expire.
- Pack Those Leftovers. There’s no need to toss out perfectly good food! Just pack it up for lunch the next day. As a general rule of thumb, leftovers should be safe for about 3 days if refrigerated properly. Refreeze items, such as beans, stew, and casserole into small containers for an easy meal later on. Or start a “Buffet Thursday” night—one night a week to clean out the frig, reheat leftovers, and use up items, such as cottage cheese, yogurt, sandwich fillings, and lettuce that are about to expire.
- Rely on Preserved Foods. Preserved foods—canned, frozen, and dried—capture food at its flavor and nutrition peak, and preserve them for use later on. Preserved foods have a long shelf life, thus result in less waste. Don’t be afraid to include more precious, preserved foods, such as canned tomatoes, pasta sauce, or tomato soup, in your menu planning, as these forms of fruits and vegetables (the lycopene is even more bioavailable in canned tomatoes) are just as nutritious as their fresh brethren.
- As a Last Resort, Compost. If food has absolutely no possibility for consumption, then at the very least compost it. By composting food, you save it from the landfill, and put those nutrients to good use. Decomposing food makes a wonderfully rich, natural method of nourishing your soil. Composting can be as simple as collecting refuse in a black trash bag, or you can purchase a compost bin to keep things neater.Collect food waste, along with yard trimmings, to create a nutrient-rich compost for your garden.
Try this economical, low-waste, eco-friendly recipe featuring dried peas and canned tomatoes.
Black-eyed Pea Sweet Potato Chili
Meaty black-eyed peas lend a wonderful flavor and texture to chili, such as my recipe here. Golden, sweet potatoes offer a rich boost of color, nutrition, and taste, as well. Cook up a pot and serve it with cornbread, as a baked potato topper, or a partner for a crisp green salad. This is a perfect recipe for a slow cooker, too. Just toss all of the ingredients into your slow cooker, push the button, and you’ll have a delicious, fragrant plant-powered meal waiting for you at the end of the day! And the leftovers are even better the next day.
8 ounces black-eyed peas, uncooked
6 cups water
2 sweet potatoes, peeled, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 small jalapeno pepper, diced finely
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple vinegar
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, with liquid
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup fresh cilantro
- Place peas in a large pot and cover with water. Soak overnight (or about 8 hours). Drain off water.
- Add 6 cups fresh water to pot, along with all ingredients, except for fresh cilantro.
- Cover with lid and bring to a simmer. Cook on medium-low for 1 ½ hour until tender.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro
Makes 8 servings
Note: This is a an excellent recipe for a slow cooker. Soak peas over night, drain, and place all ingredients (except fresh cilantro) into a slow cooker. Cook on high for 4 – 6 hours or low 8 – 10 hours. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
Many of these graphics provided by our friends at Save The Food. Visit SaveTheFood.com to learn more tips to help stop #foodwaste.
Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™, is an award-winning food and nutrition expert, journalist, and editor. She is author of The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Health, Beginning Today (The Experiment, 2012) and Plant-Powered for Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps & 125 Delicious Recipes (The Experiment, 2014). Sharon also is editor of Environmental Nutrition, nutrition editor of Today’s Dietitian, blogger for The Plant-Powered Blog, and publisher of her monthly The Plant-Powered Newsletter. Living in the chaparral hills overlooking Los Angeles with her husband and two sons, Sharon enjoys visiting her local farmers market, gardening, and cooking for friends and family.