Here’s a question I get all the time: What is food waste, and why do I care?
I’m so glad you asked! Basically, food waste is food or food packaging that cannot be used. Farms, grocery stores, restaurants and houses all generate different types of food waste. We know that. It’s the amount of food waste we generate that’s shocking.
Recently, I wrote an article about food waste for The Green Economy. Here is some information I learned from that article:
- The United States generates 350 million tons of landfill waste per year.
- Cutting out 50 percent of food waste would stop almost 50 million tons of waste from hitting landfills each year.
- Only 3 percent of food waste is actually composted or recycled.
So now that you feel doomed to a life of wastefulness, I have the good news. Here are a few ways you can drive down these shocking statistics without feeling overwhelmed by the big picture:
Tip No. 1
Start making food a conscious part of your lifestyle, because it certainly is big piece of it. One of the easiest ways to assess the foods you throw away is by asking yourself why they end up down the garbage shoot instead of the gullet. Are you preparing the food you buy at the store? Can you make time to prepare meals? Do you bring restaurant leftovers for lunch the next day?
The average household throws away $2,000 of food each year. With a little extra attention to your food habits, that number gets downsized significantly.
Tip No. 2
Get to know your food. Okay, that sounds hokey even to my ears, but I’m actually serious. Because the food we see in stores is uniform in taste, texture and color, many of us shy away from foods that look “different.” It’s a natural defense mechanism against food poisoning, but it gets taken to extremes when people don’t understand “best by” dates.
By getting to know food, you can avoid the nerve-wracking dilemma of deciding to eat food that has passed its expiration date. For example, I throw away food that obviously smells bad (never, ever drink spoiled soy milk), but I’ll hang onto fresh produce that looks like a grocery store reject. Just because the food looks different doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Tip No. 3
Watch less television. The scholarly research supporting my previous sentence is fairly abundant. Television shows and advertisements are overwhelmingly designed to make viewers want what they don’t have, and the media has a large say in America’s food culture. Consider the ads that appear on late night television. Fast food and prepackaged products come to mind. Much of the packaging can’t be recycled and ends up in the garbage.
By watching less television (or fewer advertisements if you’re lucky enough to have DVR), you remove yourself from an overwhelming onslaught of ads and protect yourself from impulse buys that are never as satisfying as they initially promise. It also frees up more time other relaxing activities such as reading books or experimenting with recipes.