Updated: Jan 28
Food waste - A third of all edible food continues to go uneaten, even though more than 10% of the global population goes hungry. To express this in more personal terms, every day in the U.S., consumers throw out nearly a pound of food per person1. Multiply that by 365 days a year, round down to 350-360 lbs. (because it’s not quite a pound), and …. we are throwing out up to 1.5 to three times our individual weight in food! When I reflect on that statistic in the context of my household, this does not seem like a lot, regardless, there is food that goes in my trash bin, and with it the energy used to produce it, ship it, and the act of buying it.
A 2018 University of Vermont study (cited above) showed a link between food waste and quality of diet. This is surprising: the healthier a person's diet, the more food they threw in the trash. Of the 22 food groups studied, fruits and vegetables were wasted most, accounting for 39% of total waste. This was followed by dairy at 17% and meat and mixed meat dishes at 14%.
What can we do? The waste hierarchy can serve to remind us of the order of the importance of managing our waste. Ideally, we would prioritize as follows: generate less waste, reuse more, recycle the rest and recover energy from those remnants. This way, residual waste is greatly minimized.
I’ll touch on recycling and recovering energy briefly later in the article, as that has a lot to do with where we live.
If it’s alive, keep it alive: here are two examples of keeping veggies green for a long time in the fridge. I got this fancy parsley keeper at Christmas (my Santa is a bit of a greenie). A clean glass pasta jar with water soaking the parsley stems also does the trick. Hint: Use the stems in your sauces and soups; once stewed they are no longer stems and their goodness finds its way onto your plate. No waste!
If in doubt, stick it in water!
I bought this living lettuce because it was on sale (I still had greens in my garden). With the root ball wrapped in a soaked paper towel, the lettuce went on sandwiches, in wraps and salads for two weeks. Nothing went bad, no problem no waste.
What doesn’t kill you, keep it longer. The “best before” and “use by” dates on most foods are not there because of an FDA or Health Canada mandate. Those dates are the producer’s way of assuring we consume at peak freshness, when products look their best. Of course, if it’s moldy, DON’T EAT THE MOLD; unless it is cheese intentionally produced with mold for flavour. The next time you’re wondering about that hummus or sour cream or…. use your senses. We can trust our senses to tell us if a food item is off. Our body is wired to be wary of poison. Look at it, if looks okay, smell it; if it smells okay, taste it. If it tastes bad, toss it in your compost.
Grow your own - According to the U.S. National Gardening Association2, food gardening is at its highest level in more than a decade. In the past five years alone, spending on food gardening has increased 43%, urban gardening has increased 29% and young people – between 18-34 years – are the fastest growing segment of the population to start food gardens. They’re growing food in containers and raised beds in tiny areas such as back decks and balconies. Yess….
Love ugly produce - In truth, I would not likely have bought these ugly tomatoes, but because I grew them, I composted those that got partly munched by bugs and cooked up the rest. (I’ve become pretty effective at building fruit fly traps too).
Freeze the rest – I really like kale, but gosh when it decides to grow, watch out! Cool thing about freezing kale is that the stiff spine running the length of the veggie is not a problem when thrown into smoothies, soups, stews or sauces. I freeze the kale on a parchment lined cookie sheet so I get individual frozen pieces, not clumps.
The circular economy is catching on - Ninety minutes down the highway from where I live in London Ontario, Guelph/Wellington won a $10 million prize under a federal Smart Cities initiative. This urban-rural project aims to become Canada’s first Circular Food Economy, reimagining an inclusive food-secure ecosystem that increases access to affordable, nutritious food by 50%, where “waste” becomes a resource, 50 new circular businesses and collaborations are created, and circular economic revenues are increased by 50%: 50x50x50 by 2025.
This five minute video explains the Guelph ambition:
A bit further east in Canada’s largest city, Toronto is going to start fueling its waste pickup trucks with biofuel generated from… food waste! The city began to implement organics waste collection, in 2014. Five years later, the infrastructure has been put in place to ‘close the loop’, a major circular achievement!
I know that this amazing circle of women has many more ideas on how you minimize food waste at home and elsewhere. Share them here! I’d love to learn your food hacks.