By Ivory King
Written on 4/10/2018
Food waste is an issue that affects so many subjects - Americans throw away about 40 percent of our total food supply, and much of our landfills is made up of formerly edible produce or products. Growing and transporting this never-eaten food takes up valuable fuel, water and other resources, and when it biodegrades in a landfill the nutrients go to waste.
Not to mention the amount of hungry people and families facing food insecurity in our country - the idea that we throw so much away when others don’t have enough is confounding [insert other food waste link]. Then there’s the amount of money that households waste on food they don’t get around to eating before it expires or goes bad. For the average American family, CNBC estimates that about $2,000 worth of food gets wasted. But with a little planning and mindful consumption, you can buy less food and throw less away.
Before you go to the grocery store, think about the days ahead. Will you or someone else in your home have time to cook? How many meals will you realistically be able to make from scratch, and how many ready-made or prepackaged products will you need? This helps not only so that you can avoid buying perishable items that will go off before you get to them, but it will also mean fewer emergency takeout orders or delivery meals that will be more expensive than getting the premade meals at the market. TheKitchn.com has a list of their favorite recipe and menu planning apps to get you started, some of which are free.
Armed with your grocery list, head straight to the areas you need to check those items off. A very simple way to minimize waste is to avoid impulse buys. Do you need that bag of avocados? It’s so easy to buy a bag of perishables that you may not get to the bottom of - it may seem like you’re saving money this way, but not if you only get through ⅔ of those oranges. Same with buying in bulk - but not from the bulk bins. With bulk bins, you can buy exactly as much as you need, at a genuinely lower cost. Don’t forget those reusable bags - there’s plenty of choices on Amazon or you can get super cute ones on Etsy.
Now comes the follow through - actually cooking what you planned to! If you have a day off that you can make food to eat throughout your workdays, that’s a great way to strategize. Keep the older stuff in the front of the fridge, or in a different drawer than the newer produce - and actually use it first.
Many people toss items as soon as they hit the “best by” date - but a lot of products are still just fine to consume. This takes a little more work to determine, but if a product smells and looks fine, it probably is - especially if it’s plant-based. The USDA has released an app that helps with this process, the FoodKeeper app, available for iOS and Android. It provides guidelines on how best to store different types of food, and encourages setting alarms for when you put things in the freezer - they’re best before a few months. In a recent update, FoodKeeper also rolled out support for food recall news, so you can actually receive notifications for those food safety recalls and foodborne illness incidents. There’s also a web-based version of the app for those without a smartphone.
Whether eating at home, or eating out, people tend to eat too much. Try serving yourself a little less and you’ll be less likely to overeat. You also will be able to save leftovers, rather than throwing away what’s left on your plate. Also, if you are at a restaurant, you can probably get away with splitting a main, or bring your own takeaway container to save on plastic - your server won’t mind packing it, and probably will be tickled that you brought it!
While there are a few apps and sites to help you with this task, technology has a limited role when it comes to helping reduce waste at home. It may seem time consuming at first, but a little forethought before you go to the store will make your trip faster, easier and cheaper. Not only that, but you can feel great knowing that you’ll end up throwing less food away, meaning if your neighborhood doesn’t have a compost program, less will end up in the landfill.