#9: How we waste food and how I plan to stop

For an upcoming community project (more on that to come!) I was doing a bit of googling, trying to understand and quantify how much food supermarkets, restaurants, and households waste. Hence the less-than-attractive moldy and spoiling fruits and vegetables.

In my googling rampage I was able find a shocking stat...

Americans waste about 40% of the food that is produced. This comes at a cost of more than $100 billion (1).

At the same time, the number of Americans without food continues to rise as does the price of food.

"Without food" comes in two different flavors.

  1. Food insecurity:  "A household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food."
  2. Hunger: "An individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity." (2)

Food insecurity in the US is currently at 14.7 %. That number doesn't seem very high? What if I said that that was 1 in 7 U.S households? YIKES! That is a lot of people. In Texas, 18.5% of households are food insecure. This ranks us at #3 in the country.

How is it that we have food insecurity and hunger amongst 14.7% of our population but we are THROWING AWAY 40% of the food that we grow?

One word....

WASTE! 

How are we wasting and what can we do to reduce our impact on food waste?

This was particularly interesting for me. I always saw myself as someone who does not waste food, a person who generally cleans their plate and who freezes fruits and veggies that are on the brink of going bad.

But when I took this quiz I scored a 50%! The average person scores 62%! Below average?! That will never do. Boy oh boy do I have a lot to learn and improve on.

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In my research, I found how we can all be more resourceful, not waste our food, and contribute to the solution, not the problem.

Understand expiration dates

This is something that I was very ignorant about. I never strictly abided by the dates on the packages and usually relied on my sense of smell and taste (in that order) to decide whether or not a food was safe to eat. But if I saw a dijon mustard in the pantry expired by over a month, definitely would toss it.

"Sell by" or "use by" labels are actually just suggestions from the manufacturer as to when this food is at its peak freshness and do not have anything to do with how safe the food is to eat. This is especially true for foods that are not refrigerated.

SHOCKING! Things such as eggs can be eaten 3-5 weeks after their purchase date, mac and cheese from a box can be eaten a whole year later after its "use by date" (3), and milk (pasteurized) is good for up to 21-24 days, even though laws in certain states do not allow a "sell by" date past 12 days.

Check out this film from Harvard Law on expiration dates and how they are based on policy, not science.

[vimeo 154439089 w=500 h=281] <p><a href="https://vimeo.com/154439089">EXPIRED? Food Waste in America</a> from <a href="https://vimeo.com/racinghorse">Racing Horse Productions</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>

*Note: I am not saying eat things that no longer taste good! But things like not-so-crunchy granola bars and chocolate chips that are starting to turn white on the outside (blooming, as it is formally called) are actually not indicators of a food not being safe! They are just no longer at optimal freshness. Just a little awareness around what those dates actually mean can save you a lot of money and can prevent a lot of food waste.

Take the doggie bag at the restaurant

I would say I clean my plate at a restaurant MAYBE 10% of the time. Most restaurants have large serving sizes that I am unable to finish. Lately, I have been way less adamant about taking that doggie bag. Since I have been out of college I guess I have been feeling more "superior" and s&%t. Phft.

Whether or not I take a doggie bag usually depends on:

  1. What I am eating
    • If I am eating salad and don't finish it (rare, very very rare) I would probably leave it
    • If the food stunk (which it often times does for vegans going to a place that serves fried chicken), I would most definitely leave it. Sorry, don't feel like taking home any of that side of white rice or frozen broccoli medley hanging out in its own microwave juices. *Grumpy moment.
    • How to counteract: Ask for the salad with dressing on the side. That way when you take leftovers the leaves will retain their freshness! I also need to start preparing better for situations such as these and eating beforehand. This way I can order one mediocre side and not have any leftovers or just politely explain that I ate beforehand.
  2. What situation I am in (date, friends, etc.)
    • If I am on a date (especially a first) I will not take the leftovers.
    • How to counteract: No more first dates. :P OR I will be very open and honest about my interest in eliminating food waste, starting with my habits and offer him the leftovers or take the doggie bag!
  3. What I am doing afterwards
    • If I am on vacation and in a city, walking around, I do not want to be carrying a doggie bag the rest of the day.
    • If I am going out after dinner, let's say to a bar or a party, I usually don't like to leave food in my car or anyone else's.
    • How to counteract: Order only what you know you will eat (an appetizer) or offer to share/split meals with the person/people you are with! I can also leave a plastic bag or request one at the restaurant to make sure that I do not smelly up my own or someone else's car.

Leftovers from a weekend of hosting and El Tiempo going! :D Repurposed for a delicious lunch. 

Don't buy more than you need at the supermarket

This one is tough, because supermarkets are designed for us to BUY BUY BUY! I always try to go to the supermarket pretty much just fed. Or I will grab myself a fresh juice or kombucha tea and drink it as I shop. I find that this makes me feel less hungry and more likely to buy healthier things!

Freeze fruits/vegetables/meals that are about to go bad

I'm kind of an all-star at this... I ALWAYS freeze bananas, greens, veggies, rice, meals, etc. BUT! I have lots to learn.

Check out what I just did this afternoon. Preserved me some lemons! Bought way too many this week and couldn't bear the thought of throwing them away. Looking forward to see how they turn out.

 

 

What tips and tricks do you use to make sure that you do not throw food away? Please share! 

How was the quiz for you? Were you surprised by your score?

Are you inspired to make an effort to waste less?

I would love to hear from you! Please email me at health4urhappiness@gmail.com.

Sources:

  1. http://www.wastedfood.com/about/
  2. http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/definitions-of-food-security.aspx
  3. http://healthland.time.com/2013/09/18/is-your-food-expired-dont-be-so-quick-to-toss-it/
  4. http://www.wastedfood.com/
  5. Photo (Ugly Food): http://www.endfoodwaste.org/ugly-fruit---veg.html

 

 

Side Story: Ugly or Overripe Fruits and Veggies

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One of my tips for less food waste was going to be to try to buy ugly or maybe a little riper fruits and veggies from the supermarket. I had heard about this before. There is even a new ugly food store! *Thanks for the info Ruth!

Before I recommended this, I decided to do a little research of my own...

I went to Kroger, Whole Foods, and Sprouts and asked them if they had a stash of super ripe bananas (this was my lead in). Who doesn't like overripe bananas? I actually prefer them that way for smoothies.

I was pretty shocked to find that none of the stores had a stash of super ripe bananas for me to purchase...

I then asked about whether or not they had other older or ugly fruits and veggies that they were planning on throwing away. They said that most of the ugly fruits and veggies are caught at the warehouse (Ah-Ha! For further investigation at a later date). But when they do have something that may not look the part to sell, they keep it in a designated area where it is donated.

WF by far was the most thorough in explaining to me where their produce goes. They have daily pick-ups (mostly) and they compost things that are spoiled. The compost is also donated to local gardens.

Kroger actually has a designated shelf area and puts their ugly/overripe produce in red bags for us to buy at discount. YIPEE! They also donate to the Houston Food Bank, but there is still more investigation to be done in terms of the produce...

Anyway, that is just a quick side-note! Knowing information like this has resulted in my community project taking a bit of a turn... But I am excited about it.