Growing up, I thought throwing out food was normal. At our house there was a Sunday ritual that involved emptying the refrigerator and inspecting everything within. Leftovers were tossed without question and anything with a spot of brown immediately was deemed inedible as well. After a thorough cleaning the surviving food was put back in and the weekly pace of school and work would truck on until the next weeks purge. Throwing out an overflowing bin full of food was done without a second thought and the next day Mom would head to Costco to refill the refrigerator back to the brim.
This weekly ritual of tossing food into the trash is now not just an American problem. Wealthy countries world-wide see food as an abundance, so who cares if an old head of lettuce is tossed. At a recent UN convention one of the hottest topics was food waste and how to begin solving an issue that begins with farmers, travels through businesses and ends with consumers. With waste occurring at every step of the way there are estimates that 1/3 of all of the food produced in the world ends up in the trash before ever getting the chance to be eaten
If you have ever thrown out deli meat, an old steak or some chicken that you never got around to, remember that animal meat is one of the most costly food items to produce. It's easy to forget that the roast beef on your sandwich came from a thousand pound animal that took a year to mature and that required an estimated 1800 gallons of water per pound of meat to produce.
Aside from the waste that happens in homes, there's also waste in grocery stores and restaurants. Since consumers expect perfect produce, markets can only stock perfect looking fruit. Anything with spots or that might seem unappealing to customers is thrown away and the minute something looks overripe it's yanked from the shelves.
Restaurants deal with another equally tough challenge. They must play a guessing game to decide how much food to order each day. Over order and food goes to waste, yet under ordering isn't an option in a market that relies on being able to offer guests anything they might want to eat. The delicate balance of keeping customers happy can come at the high cost of excess food landing in the garbage.
This issue won't be solved overnight, but there are steps every single person can take to ensure they are doing their part to reduce food waste. Food waste has become an unhealthy habit that simply isn't seen as potentially dangerous as it really is. The UN estimated this year that the world produces enough food to feed every single inhabitant on earth, yet due to waste and poor distribution models it's not ending up with those who need it most. Rather than feeding one another, extra food is forgotten until it's too late, never getting the chance to soothe an empty stomach or offer its nutrition to those who need it most.
"Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes) - U.N. report on worldwide food waste
Be sure to always shop on a full stomach, nothing is more difficult than resisting temptation when hungry. Always go shopping with a game plan, armed with a planned meal list and set ingredients. Shopping on a whim is one of the easiest ways to fall into the food waste trap. Without a clear plan, it's easy to forget to use the pack of berries that looked so good but only last a day or two at home.
Keep a section of your fridge space for items that need to be eaten first. Keep leftovers, items near expirations and anything that has a short shelf like here, in plain site. Speaking of expirations, make sure to brush up on what "sell by" or "best by" really means. Since there's no federal standard, it can be tricky to understand when food is actually bad or when it should be eaten by. By simply smelling, touching and visually inspecting food you can get a fairly good idea if something is okay to eat or not. If it smells off, feels slimy and it shouldn't or doesn't visually look right then of course toss the food, getting sick isn't the aim here, awareness is.
Keeping your food in a clear container is another great way to keep track of what you have since out of sight, out of mind is never truer than in the back of a refrigerator. Write dates onto any leftovers you have so there's no confusion as to whether or not it's still okay.
A great challenge to try with your family is the "bucket challenge". This involves keeping all of your food waste for a month to see what you are throwing out. This includes leftovers, extra food on plates and anything else that might spoil through the week. At the end of each week you weigh it to see how many pounds of food you throw out on average. There's no way to cover up or evade a bucket full of wasted food, it might be hard, or you might feel guilty, but it's okay. The idea is to learn where you're having your issues and change the habits.
All of these ideas are just to bring your attention to something that might have never crossed your radar. The only way to fix any issue is to become aware of it. Starting with any of the tips above and you can begin to change your habit of literally throwing money into the garbage each week without pause. Spread the word and encourage your friends and loved ones to become aware of this world wide issue. Only by starting small in each home and community will we be able to change the world for the better.