We need it, we produce it, but we waste it.

What can you do to reduce food waste in your home?

I remember when I was younger, going to my great-grandmother’s house and the first thing my mom or grandma doing was looking through the fridge and cabinets for expired food. When they would try to throw away a jar of peanut butter or bottle of ketchup, that was a week or two expired, my great-grandmother would throw a fit. She always gave them the same lecture— saying that food did not go bad that fast and it was still perfectly safe to eat and tasted just fine.

Everyone always teased her about not throwing things away, but today we have the exact opposite problem in society. If fruits or vegetables do not look perfect, we throw them out without giving it a second thought.

As many of our great grandparents did, my great grandmother lived through the Great Depression, times were unimaginably tough for them and food was hard to come by.

According to The Atlantic, the Environmental Protection Agency has found that food waste is the largest component of waste in U.S. landfills.

FoodWasteInfographic
Every second in America, 3,000 pounds of food is wasted. Infographic from Infographiclist.com

To fix this issue, we must first understand the term “food waste.” This is simply throwing out or not consuming food. So, what can we do to help reduce the waste of food in America? Some simple solutions are to reduce the urge to only want perfect looking fruits and vegetables, breaking the habit of over-purchasing food at the grocery stores, and educating yourself on confusing sell by date labeling.

Picky People wanting Perfect Produce

Grocery stores and consumers can both be held responsible for the picky ways we purchase our produce. Some grocery stores routinely check produce for any oddly shaped or colored fruits and vegetables. If produce does not look exactly as it should, it is tossed straight into the trash. According to Business Insider,  of all the food produced in the U.S., one third of it is thrown out. Grocery stores contribute to a shocking 10 percent of that wasted food.

Some say the new “foodie” fad that has swept across all social media outlets has also played a role in this produce pickiness. Two pieces of squash could taste amazing, but if one is not the perfect bright yellow we associate with a squash then it will be tossed straight to the landfill.

What can we do about it?

First, we must understand not all fruits and vegetables are going to look perfect. If there are some bruises, scratches or different colored spots on the produce, it is usually okay! Also, understanding what the fruit or vegetable feels like when ripe is helpful. Many different blogs and videos online can help you become a more educated consumer. You should check this one out.

Many individuals have started putting their food waste in compost piles instead of taking it to landfills, as a way they can fertilize their yard.  Dairy, meat and bones are not good to put in your compost pile since they can create and grow harmful bacteria. Vegetables, coffee grounds, egg shells and any other kitchen food waste are perfect! Creating a compost pile is an easy way to reduce food waste in landfills and give back to the earth.

CompostPileInfographic
Starting a compost pile with your family can be fun! Click the image to learn more about creating your very own compost pile. Image from Toxipedia

Buying Bulk, a Bang for your Buck

As farming practices have become more efficient, our food has become less expensive. This is great for the American households, but it causes us to buy much more food than we need. Bulk food stores also add to this issue because consumers can get a better price per item if they buy it in bulk.

In a study done by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab as well as the Getulio Vargas Foundation, it was found that the leading cause of food waste in homes is simply buying too much food. When we buy in bulk, it is less likely that we are going to be able to consume all of the food we purchased. But, it is also a very easy habit to fix!

Landfill
Food is the most abundant source of waste in most landfills in the United States. Image found on theatlantic.com.

What can we do about it?

Meal planning is one of the easiest ways to ensure you are buying food that will not go to waste, and it is also a great thing to do as a family. When you plan out meals you know exactly what you will need for the week or two weeks until you go back to the grocery store.

Meal planning can be challenging to start if you have never done it before, but Pinterest is a great resource. There are also tons of other tips online to help you plan your family meals and reduce the amount of wasted food in your household.

When you go to the grocery store, make sure you have a list and stick to it! Those fruits and vegetables might be on sale and look delicious, but remember you can’t eat them all!

Confusing Sell by Dates

Today we have food at our fingertips, and for such a small price. This has caused us to become picky consumers. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the leading issues in food waste is confusing date labels. The Food Date Labeling Act, introduced to the House and Senate in May of 2016, was created to lessen the restrictions on donating food that is past its due date.

According to an online article by Still Tasty, use-by, best if used by, best by and best

SellByDates
Sell by labeling can be confusing for some consumers, ultimately leading to more food waste. Image found on sheetlabels.com.

before are provided by the manufacturer of the product but is not set by the USDA. These dates simply inform the consumer of when the product may not be at the absolute best quality, but are not set for safety reasons. Many consumers get confused about the dates and throw their food out, causing an abundance of food to not be consumed.

 

What can we do about it?

To learn the difference between confusing terms like “sell by date” “best if used by” and “best before,” watch this video. Simply tasting, smelling or looking at a certain products can usually give you a clue as to whether it needs to be thrown away or not.

There are some cities in the United States that have started collecting food from grocery stores that are a day or two after their sell by date and using it to prepare food at soup kitchens for the hungry. Food that is going to be thrown away at a grocery store and just wasted. What better way to reduce waste by preparing a meal for those at a soup kitchen? France has actually banned grocery store from throwing away their expired foods. Instead, they have them put produce in a compost or donate it to food pantries.

So maybe you can be the change in your community and help feed the hungry while reducing the amount of food waste in our landfills.

Doing our part!

Today, the world is becoming more and more concerned about where their food comes from and how their food was produced. In order for us to feed our growing population, we not only have to grow food more efficiently, but we also have to reduce the waste of food.

Although my great grandmother keeping peanut butter in her cabinet for two years was not good, I think we can learn something from the older generation regarding food waste. No matter where we live, there are ways we can reduce the waste of food. We can become more educated on selecting produce, only buying the amount of food we need, and learning more about sell by dates on products. As consumers, we should be responsible with our food and not be so wasteful! We have a growing population and hungry families; we don’t have food to waste.