Food Waste is No Big Deal . . . Right? What if it Is?

Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tons) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons). In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions.[i]

Guilty. The bread is moldy; well half a loaf of bread is moldy. Into the trash it goes.

A look in the refrigerator reveals more food gone bad that also needs to be tossed out. Ugh. A quart jar of two-week-old lentil soup, a partial carton of cottage cheese now looks more like a well developed Petri dish experiment, enough neglected lunch meat for two sandwiches, and some very limp celery alongside half a head of rotting lettuce. What was once tasty and nutritious is on its way to the garbage can with a one way ticket to the landfill.  I really hate wasting food and even get upset with myself for doing so.

To make matters worse, throwing away food means throwing away dollars.

Most of us don’t think about what happens once the garbage is picked up by the guys in the big trucks. We’re just thankful it’s gone. We might even assume the county landfill is just one big compost pile for castaway edibles. But that’s not true.

Food waste is a big contributor to global warming.

At the dump site, food waste, along with all other trash, is buried and deprived of the light and air needed to properly compost. Instead, food based garbage produces methane gas which is 23 times more potent than carbon monoxide as a greenhouse gas.

Still, the majority of us will need to toss out some food waste unless we enjoy eating banana peels and chicken bones. It’s unavoidable. But the problem of too much food being wasted is all too common.

According to “The Daily Green”, it is estimated that we throw away a third of the food we buy each week!

That equates to squandering a third of our grocery money. For a family of four whose food budget is $150 a week, that means $50 is being sent to the landfill. What if those same food dollars were given more attention after we bring our groceries home? Instead of seeing a head of lettuce, a loaf of bread, and a carton of cottage cheese in the refrigerator, can we picture $8.19 sitting on that shelf?

Simple ways to waste less food, save money, and help the environment, too.

  1. Create a menu that plans dinner with more-than-one-meal in mind. Meatloaf from Monday is a meat base for spaghetti sauce on Tuesday. Grilled chicken from Thursday goes into a chef’s salad on Friday.
  2. Estimate portion sizes according to your family’s eating habits. Buy accordingly. A pound of hamburger makes three good sized patties or four smaller ones.
  3. Take inventory weekly. Know what’s in the refrigerator and pantry. Find recipes that use those ingredients. A surplus of milk pairs with eggs for a delicious quiche or custard.
  4. Use the freezer smartly. Most foods freeze nicely. Have freezer bags on hand. A whole loaf of bread might be too much. Store half in the freezer for later use.
  5. Check fresh fruit and vegetables often. Make smoothies and soups before the spoilage sets in.
  6. If you’ve a mind to compost, get a bin for those fruit and vegetable peelings. In a few months you’ll have rich nutrients for your plants.
  7. Share with others. Elderly neighbors appreciate a home cooked meal and food banks are always in need.

Food waste really is a big deal. Fortunately, we can make a difference—one kitchen at a time when we’re attentive to grocery shopping; and food preparation and preservation. Will you join me in taking the challenge to be conscious of food waste this year?

“Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” John 6:12 NIV

[i] Global Food Losses and Food Waste – FAO, 2011; http://www.unep.org/wed/quickfacts/