Ways to Waste Less
Buy what you need. The first step to wasting less food is to buy less. Much of the food that is wasted in the U.S. and other industrialized countries spoils before any part of it is eaten. So, to cut down on food waste, plan your shopping trips wisely. Check your pantry and fridge, and make a list of what you need from the grocery store or farmer’s market before you go. Avoid impulse purchases, and be wary of buying things you would not normally eat just because of a good sale. Food bought on sale is not actually a deal if it only goes to waste.
Buy produce where itís freshest. Pay attention to country of origin labels on the apples, bananas and asparagus you eat at the store — Mexico, Chile, China — and you will find that much of the produce at big box grocery stores is, shall we say, well-traveled. Fruits and vegetables at the supermarket may have literally gone halfway around the world before landing on your local store’s shelf — and that means the produce you buy at your grocer may already be weeks or months old.
Farmerís market and CSA produce is often sourced locally, and therefore may be much fresher than supermarket produce — which means it will last longer once you bring it home.
Grow your own. Nothing is fresher than food you picked five minutes ago in your own backyard. It does not take much space — or even much expertise — to grow a small vegetable or herb garden. Even those without a yard can try growing lettuce or basil in a container on a balcony or a sunny window sill.
Eat your leftovers. Eating leftovers does not have to mean eating the same thing all week. Before the advent of convenience food culture, most people were loathe to waste leftovers, and such fantastic upcycled food inventions as banana bread and French toast were the result. Look for easy recipes that repurpose excess food — like stews, soups and casseroles — and add them to your cooking repertoire.
Talk to kids about food waste. Between the natural pickiness of preschoolers and the common preteen plague of eyes-bigger-than-stomach syndrome, anyone who has children knows that they can be champion food wasters. There is no need to shame children into cleaning their plates — but if you have kids and want to encourage them to be better at conserving food, talk to them about the problem. Encourage kids to think about how hungry they are before they choose their food, and to take only as much as food as they will eat.
Share what you donít eat. Do not, do not donate spoiled or expired food to a food bank — it will only create more work for the volunteer workers, who will have to sort out inedible foods and throw them away. But do consider sharing excess garden produce with food banks, or donating good, still-fresh food you donít need or care for (say, the box of cookies your aunt gave you that you’re allergic to, or the five extra boxes of Girl Scout Cookies you bought from your co-worker’s daughter).
When you find yourself with excess food that’s about to spoil, and you have no time to make a donation, consider cooking it all and freezing it to use later, or inviting friends or neighbors over for dinner.
Dispose of food waste responsibly. If you must throw away food, try not to let it end up in a methane-spewing landfill. A compost pile is a much better option for food disposal, and if you do have a garden, the compost you create with food waste can be recycled into new, fresh food.
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Photo of food waste by Nick Saltmarsh. Used under Creative Commons license.
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