If you are eco-minded like ecoRDN then you will know the 22nd of April was Earth Day. You could also just happen to own a calendar. Earth day has been a thing since 1970. The concept, a result of the pretty uncool acts against the planet at that time. Events such as the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, CA, the widespread use of leaded-gas guzzling v8 engines and increased pollutants created by industrialization to name only a few.
Perhaps thanks to Earth Day and similar movements we have seen some progress in the past 46 years. There are more hybrid vehicles on the market than I have the patience to count and at least a dozen running purely on electricity. Some states have banned or taxed the use of plastic bags at grocery and retail stores. Recycling has become the norm in all major cities and even touches some of rural America too.
However, despite these steps forward the US still has much room for improvement. Some of the major issues today include fracking, GMO and pesticide use, factory farming and food waste. Since I am a foodie, nutrition professional and simply a waste hater we will focus on the latter topic today.
Now, you may be thinking what is the big deal if a little food gets wasted when compared to the aforementioned issues it seems a bit trifle. It’s food so it breaks down right?
Well actually, food loss and waste have many negative economic and environmental impacts.
Economically the loss represents a wasted investment that can reduce farmers’ incomes and increase consumers’ expenses. Think about the cost of seeds, machinery, and farm workers salaries. What about the energy involved in the storage, cooling or transport to the grocery store or restaurant. The packaging of products with plastics and styrofoam all wasted too.
Environmentally food loss and waste inflict a host of impacts, including unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions and inefficiently used water and land, which in turn can lead to diminished natural ecosystems.
When Earth day started in 1970 waste was only about 20% for US grown food. Currently the estimates for trashed food is around 40%. This equates to about 70 million tons. The cost of this waste is about $161 billion each year. The government can fight using legislation but we all know that method can be a long tedious process. And since statistics show that 70% of Americans are bothered by food waste, lets start right here at home with 10 tips to reduce food waste as a consumer.
1. Ignore the date, use your senses.
We know its confusing! You have always been told to live by the tiny printed date on your food package, but first you need to know what those dates really mean.
Open dating (not to be confused with open relationships or PDAs!) is found primarily on perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. This is an actual calendar date (ex. 15 FEB 2017 is on the box of soy milk currently in my refrigerator) that makes sense to a shopper. “Closed” or “coded” dating might appear on shelf-stable products such as cans and boxes of food and they really make no sense to the shopper (ex. LS29215 appears on the bottom of a sea salt container in my cupboard.)
- A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale.
- A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality.
- A “Use-By” is determined by the manufacturer and is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality.
- “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer. Ignore unless you hear that your item has been recalled, then check to see if your code is a match. If it is follow the steps provided by the manufacturer to get a replacement or refund.
None of the dates above are safety dates! So you are left to make a decision based on your senses. If it smells funny, looks funny or tastes funny then THROW IT AWAY. Do not throw it away because of the tiny printed date on the package, those dates don’t mean shit!
2. Live mindfully.
Step out of auto pilot and beware of impulsivity or blind habit. While waiting in line for your coffee at Dunkin Donuts you think how good those creme filled’s look. You think about getting one, no you think about buying a whole dozen to take to work as a kind gesture to your co-workers. Before purchasing, ask yourself, “do I really need that donut?” if eating that donut means the far healthier leftovers in the fridge will get tossed and the apple will rot on my desk instead of getting eaten.” Is it really a kind gesture to my co-workers or am I trying to justify my need for an instant sugar fix because I skipped breakfast?” Yeah that sugar makes you feel good for a little, but it will only pack on extra calories, sabotage your co-workers diet and deplete your wallet. This leads right into…planning.
3. Plan, plan and plan.
Meal planning is a great way to reduce food waste by not buying more than we need in the first place. Having prepared foods on hand limits the impulse buys brought on by raging hunger.
Ask yourself these questions and answer mindfully! How many meals and snacks do I need daily? What is my meal pattern? How much time can I budget this week for cooking and meal prep? Do I have plans to eat out for dinner or am I scheduled for a work lunch? How much time do I have for actually procuring my ingredients and how will I get them?
For ecoRDN we generally have three meals and one snack daily and do most of our eating at home each week. Since we do not have a car we pick up a backpack full of ingredients throughout the week in stores or markets close to where we know we will be on those days. We do most of our prep for the work week on Sundays when we have the day off.
4. Shop smarter not harder.
Before even entering a store we know exactly what we need thanks to meal planning and smart shopping! All of our favorite stores have weekly flyers on their websites telling us what is on sale for the week ahead. From there we think up recipes and generate a shopping list based on our patterns.
If physical shopping is not your thing, many stores now offer on-line shopping and delivery.
For an additional fee Giant Eagle’s Curbside express allows you to order online and pick up your groceries at the store, all packaged and delivered to your car.
Amazon, Thrive Market and Boxed offer loads of non-perishables. Fresh Direct and Pea Pod even deliver fresh produce, no need to leave the comfort of your home.
CSAs (community supported agriculture) are another great and local option, usually with a pick up location close to home. Perhaps your front porch could be a pick up location, a win for you!
5. Grow your own.
Home gardening helps the planet by reducing pesticides and herbicides if you grow your food “organically”. You’ll also reduce the use of fossil fuels and pollution that come from transport and storage. And don’t forget some veg like green onions, certain herbs and lettuce can be clipped and grown over and over again.
6. Compost it.
If you do have food waste and there is no way to have zero food waste, unless you are a microbe and can digest cellulose, then composting is a great way to keep it out of the landfill.
Donate food scraps at public gardens or farmers markets, start a kitchen or backyard bin or try your hand at vermicomposting (composting with worms)!
7. Give to others.
If you know you have food that is going to go bad then simply give it to someone else who may need or want it. We all have a creative “Martha Stewart” type friend who can make gold out of garbage. Give that 3 lb bag of rutabega to them, they will know what to do.
Food Banks and soup kitchens also accept donations, but check with them first to see what they need.
8. Preserve it.
Freezing is one of the easiest ways to prolong the life of our foods. You can buy fresh, process then freeze or buy frozen right off the bat.
Pickling, fermenting and canning will preserve a food for months or even up to a year.
Keep foods out of the “danger zone” (40-120º F). Remember that proper food handling will preserve your items longer.
Buy products like soy, almond or rice milk in shelf-stable aseptic packages instead of from the refrigerated aisle. They will last longer and save you money.
9. Choose the ugly ones.
Ugly fruits and vegetables that is! NPR’s The Salt recently published an article touting the higher nutrition content of the marred and misshapen. Both Wholefoods and Giant Eagle recently announced that they will be selling ugly produce soon in an effort to halt waste. Supporting such businesses is another way to reduce waste. Boycotting stores that have terrible sustainability practices is easier yet.
10. Just eat it.
You can eat food from dumpsters like this couple did for six months in the documentary about food waste called, Just Eat It. Not into that idea? You could watch the documentary instead and maybe get some more insight on food waste and how you can help reduce it.
Let us know in the comments below what your neat trick is to save food.
Thanks for reading and happy food saving!
© 2015-2016 ecoRDN