By: Kerry Bazany
Our American populace throws away an enormous amount of food. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), we throw away more than 400 pounds of food every year. In 2014, more than 28 million tons of food waste was generated nationwide. To view these kinds of statistics makes one uneasy and susceptible to taking a personal inventory of our attitudes, habits, and practices when it comes to throwing away food. No one truly likes to waste food. Perhaps that attitude harkens back to bygone days when at our dinner table we were admonished to “eat everything on that plate…there are starving children in China.”(or, insert your choice of country). I’m sure we can all recall sulking and quipping back, “Okay, then I’ll send this to them”, particularly if the meal wasn’t appetizing to us. But in our adult reality, the difficulty with wasting food is that it pokes at our conscience, prompting us to review our beliefs and the economic impracticality of discarding food.
A Brief Definition of Food Waste
Food waste is distinct from food loss. Food loss refers to the “decrease in edible food mass throughout the part of the supply chain that leads to edible food for human consumption” (Parfitt et al., 2010). Food loss can occur at production, postharvest, and processing stages. By contrast, food waste relates to retailer and/or consumer behavior that leads to edible products meant for human consumption being discarded. Some of the following reasons for food waste in the American household may be obvious, while some are not:
- Leftovers – Too much food has been prepared and/or put on the plate.
- Partially Used Food – Includes food not used and also leftovers that usually end up at the back of the fridge and are never reused.
- Exceeds Use By Date – Primarily applies to dairy, meat, and fish which were not used in time.
- Exceeds Best Before Date – Primarily applies to bread and other foods in the pantry.
- Change of Plans – This can and does happen, but it helps to use the food you were planning to cook as quickly as possible.
- Not Prepared to Expectations – Yes, it’s possible that the meal you imagined just didn’t turn out as planned or taste as good!
- A “Best if Used By/Before”indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
- A “Sell-By”date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
- A “Use-By”date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date, except for infant formula.
Food Waste is a Social, Economic, and Environmental Problem
In 2013, 48 million Americans were food insecure at some time during that year; food insecure being defined as “when a person is unable to obtain a sufficient amount of healthy food on a day-to-day basis. “ (Cunningham, 2013). With the world population expected to increase by two billion people by 2050, this raises the question of how to adequately provide nutritious food to a significant portion of the human race, especially when presented with the fact that Americans, along with most industrialized nations, waste so much food.
Additionally, the economic and environmental impact of food waste is inextricably linked. The NRDC estimates that 40% of all food (approximately $165 billion worth) is discarded. This is in the United States alone. American expectation for fresh, nutritious food has compelled food harvesters as well as retailers to discard thousands of tons of otherwise edible food because it was felt that the food was not visually appealing to consumers. Add to this the considerable cost of water, fertilizer, and land that is used to produce food that is never eaten. Fuel is burned for processing, refrigeration, and transportation. Greenhouse gases are emitted in the amount of 3.3 billion tons, and food waste that is left to decay emits methane, also a greenhouse gas.
The Benefits of Reducing Food Waste
In conjunction with the economic, social, and environmental factors mentioned above, there are definitive benefits to reducing wasted food:
- Save money by purchasing less food
- Reduce methane emissions from landfills containing discarded and decaying food
- Conserve energy and environmental resources by reducing the amount of pollution produced in the manufacture and transportation of food
- Effect community involvement and support by donating untouched food to various organizations that provide services to those that do not have a steady food supply
Tips for Reducing Food Waste in Your Home
- Meal plan – Time and time again, this has shown to greatly reduce the amount of food wasted in your home by forcing you to buy only the items needed for food preparation instead of buying on impulse.
- Create a shopping list based on how many meals you will eat at home for the week – How often will you eat out this week? Unexpected meals out or take-out happen, but you will feel better about taking control of the costs of your grocery shopping.
- Review what you already have in your refrigerator and pantry – We’ve all done it with the items we already have refrigerated, and it’s costly and a bit frustrating. Always make a list!
- Buying in bulk is not always the best deal – This only saves money if you are able to use the food products before they spoil or exceed their use-by date.