I’m a huge John Oliver fan. I don’t have HBO (or cable for that matter), but I constantly watch Last Week Tonight on Youtube. And I really loved this episode on food waste.
Here in the U.S. we’re wasting about 1/3 of our food in spite of millions of people in our country who don’t have access to enough food. Not to mention that most Americans who can get enough to eat still don’t have access to healthy food.
John Oliver covers many ways in which food waste is produced by farmers and grocery stores. The issue with grocery stores and food manufacturers needs to be addressed on legislative level. Sell by dates need to become more practical and expired but edible food should be donated or sold at a discount.
The example shown in this segment of farmers wasting food was peach growers throwing perfectly edible and delicious peaches on the ground because they were not attractive enough to deliver to grocery stores. Again, grocery stores need to re-evaluate their position on this, perhaps selling ugly produce at a discount as there is definitely a lot of proven psychology regarding what we will or won’t purchase. But from an ecological standpoint I find this example pretty innocuous because those discarded peaches are breaking down in a more natural environment and returning their nutrients to the trees. But with so many people lacking access to fresh produce it is certainly problematic in a social context.
So, what can we do about all this?
I found a petition created by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D Maine) demanding that Congress address food waste with legislation. The petition is just over 4,000 signatures short of its 100,000 goal, so help get the word out now!
But here are a few things you can do in your own home to cut back on waste:
Prepare your own food whenever possible
This is more sustainable for a variety of reasons. It also tends to be cheaper and healthier than eating out or eating processed foods. It also allows you more control of the amount of food wasted to generate your meal. Not to mention the packaging on processed food!
Plan shopping trips before you go to the store and try to avoid impulse purchases
I’m not great at this one honestly. I often prefer to see what produce appeals to me at the grocery store. But my cooking is often simple. There are a few basic meals I tend to create variations on. This is made all the easier because I’m cooking mostly vegetarian or vegan these days.
Store food appropriately to maximize shelf-life
This depends completely on what you’re eating. When I can get good quality meat I usually freeze it so I can cook it whenever I like. I store most produce in fridge (dry! washing speeds up decay!), with the exception of certain fruits like bananas (turn brown) or tomatoes (ruins cell structure/taste). I think you’re supposed to keep fresh herbs moist with a paper towel in the fridge, but I hardly ever buy them anymore (too expensive and they always sell larger quantities than I can use.)
Plan meals to avoid preparing too much food
This again depends on your individual circumstances. I almost never have this problem because my husband bikes all day and can eat a TON! Are you feeding just yourself, or a large family? Do you want leftovers for meals throughout the week? Take it all into consideration, and again, store food appropriately depending on what it is to keep is fresh as long as possible!
I’m sad to say I haven’t started doing this yet, although I hope to start soon. Luckily most of my produce waste is minimized a bit by the next step I’ll recommend, but sometimes you just need to toss produce or unusable scraps. If you live in an urban environment like me, there may be programs in your neighborhood for compost collection. I plan on making use of a collection site at my local farmers market once I get my equipment set up. See what’s available near you. If you have a house with a yard you can buy or build a complete compost set-up that will transform your produce waste into free fertilizer for your garden, all while helping reduce greenhouse gasses. Win win win.
From my basic knowledge of composting I think it’s best stick to only composting produce. Keep any oil or animal products out. They don’t break down as easily and tend to attract pests. Egg shells are ok. Also coffee grounds and many coffee filters 🙂
I plan on doing a full post on apartment composting once I get set up, so check back for that!
Freeze produce scraps
This is my main course of action, but will be much improved once I start composting. Any undigestible veggie scraps (things with too much fiber or unappealing texture/taste) go into tupperware in the freezer. I use them to make veggie stock, or to enhance bone broth. Leafy greens/stems/and other digestible scraps can be added to smoothies or soups. Or casseroles or just about anything you can think of.
First In First Out
I spent a lot of time working in food service, and this is an industry rule, sometimes just referred to as rotation. We called it FIFO for short. Eat older food first so it doesn’t go bad. Very basic and easy to remember. If you struggle with this, try labeling your food with the date you store it. I also like to physically rotate my supplies when I put them away, placing newer food behind the older food so it is easier to access and harder to forget.
If you can’t eat it, donate it!
I think this one speaks for itself.
Here‘s a petition at MoveOn you can sign if you like, pledging to reduce personal food waste. Signing enters you into a raffle where you can win prizes!
I hope I’ve given you some new ideas about food waste. Did I miss anything? Do you have some tips you’d like to add? Feel free to comment with your own tips!