Want to Fix the Food System? Start Here…
Do you think the power to reduce methane gases, preserve precious resources like water and land, and reduce the use of pesticides by farmers is out of your hands? What if I told you that you hold an enormous amount of power and by exerting that power, it wouldn’t cost you a thing but would actually save you over $2,000/ year?
I love this visual done by National Geographic last year. It dipicts the average food waste produced by a family of four in a year. In a country where over a billion people go hungry, the average family throws away 1,160 pounds of food each year! The US is THE largest producer of food waste globally, with an annual waste of 133 BILLION pounds valued at $161 TRILLION. When hearing the words food waste, most people conjure up images of restaurants throwing away food at the end of a day, or supermarkets that dispose of unsold foods that have reached their expiration date. The truth is though, as much as we would like to point fingers at businesses, WE are the ones to blame. It is the individual households that are producing the most waste. Forty four percent of all food waste is coming from ordinary households across America. Almost 50% of the food we purchase goes into our garbage rather than our stomachs. We are raising animals in horrible conditions in feed lots, only to throw away almost 25% – their lives tortured and sacrificed for nothing. But that pales in comparison to the 52% of fruits and vegetables that will never be consumed – all the resources and work put into that produce only to end up in a land fill. At a time when most people are struggling to make ends meet, how is this happening? I believe that it is because we all have good intentions. We go to the store and proudly purchase all the healthy foods to fill up our fridge and pantry only to have life get in the way of actually preparing those foods. We live in a time where we are all being pulled in many different directions and find ourselves spread too thin to actually carry out our good intentions. I am not saying it is an easy problem to fix, but if we are going to fix our broken system (and save ourselves a substantial amount of money in the meantime) then we can not overlook the very real problem of food waste. With some knowledge, effort, and commitment, this is a very tangible way to have a very visible impact. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
The first step for preventing food waste is planning ahead, which interestingly enough has a bonus side effect of helping you to eat healthier all the way around. Look at what you have available in your house right now, how busy your week is, and how much time you will realistically have to cook. Use that information to help you plan your meals and from there, create your shopping list. There are apps that will help you do that, my favorites are BigOven and PepperPlate for free apps. There are also a couple excellent apps that charge about $5-$8/month if you want a little more support and are willing to spend some of your new found savings on that help. CookSmarts, PlantoEat, and Paprika all fall under this category.
In addition to menu planning and shopping list creation, there are a couple apps that will also help you stay on top of food going bad. They will tell you how long a particular food will keep, how to prepare it and store it to make it last longer, as well as help with menu planning to make the most of what you have available. Some of my favorites are FridgePal, StillTasty, and USDA’s new app FoodKeeper.
Another favorite app of mine is Locavore which helps you determine what is in season that you could find at your local farmers market and provides recipes so you can plan your meals. Many people who shop at farmers markets end up buying things that they don’t know what to do with and it ends up going bad, this app will prevent that so you are still sticking with a list and you have a recipe to use it in.
We have become so accustomed to food having to look perfect that we forget that most produce does not actually grow that way. What happens to all the imperfect fruit and vegetables? They are exactly the same when it comes to nutritional value and taste, they are discarded simply because they are not as aesthetically pleasing. Talk to your local farmer or grocer about what they do with these foods. Inquire as to whether or not you can purchase them, chances are you will get a great deal on it! What does it matter what it looks like if you are going to be cutting it up and using it in a recipe anyway?
You know you have broccoli in the fridge that will go bad if you don’t use it today, but friends have invited you over for dinner. Instead of throwing away the broccoli, quickly blanch it and throw it in the freezer where it will keep much longer. It will only take ten minutes, tops – yes, you can find ten minutes if you prioritize. Have bananas turning brown on the counter but don’t have time to make muffins? Peel them and put them in the freezer to use in smoothies. Do you only have time to cook a couple days/week? When you do have time and you are making a recipe, double it and put 1/2 in the freezer for another day. You can do the same with leftovers if you know you will not be eating them in the next couple days – go ahead and freeze them, you will be grateful next month when you are flat out with holiday plans.
Lastly, if you find even with your best efforts, you have food waste, put it into a compost. (No meats or fats) Composting is easy to do and helps us rebuild our soil while keeping food waste out of landfills. If you live somewhere that prevents you from composting, consider vermicompost which can be done very compactly indoors. This will help you complete the cycle, as you use the compost to build your soil and plant your own food in the spring. If you do not have the space or resources to grow your own food, donate the compost to someone who does. Once you begin growing your own food, it provides a much needed perspective on how difficult it is to grow food and how protective we need to be of this valuable resource.