While on a flight over the weekend I flipped through the onboard film options and came across Anthony Bourdain’s “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste,” a 2017 documentary that highlights the many ways in which we’re wasting our food and hurting the planet in the process. And boy, was it enlightening.
When we think about reducing our carbon footprints and contributions to the landfill, we think of things such as improving the energy efficiency in our homes or opting not to use plastic straws when dining out. Yet, I don’t often hear talk about reducing the amount of food we waste, even though the impact of wasted food is incredible.
For starters, between restaurants, grocery stores, and our homes, Americans waste 40 percent of our entire food supply. Homes are the most significant contributor. Collectively, that comes at a cost of one trillion dollars, with the average family wasting $1,500 of food. Yikes.
Worse yet, almost all of that wasted food is ending up directly in landfills rather than finding a better purpose. Money is one thing, but if we don’t have a healthy planet in which to live, money won’t matter much, will it?
I think we disregard the fact that we throw out so much food because we like to believe that it must break down wherever it ends up. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Food in landfills produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas that is 34 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in its short-term ability to trap heat in the atmosphere.
Surprisingly, the Environmental Protection Agency offers some strategies on how we can sustainably manage our food waste. Check out their inverted pyramid guide at www.epa.gov.
When you combine these concepts with basic strategies in the kitchen, we can reduce the amount of the food and money we waste while also having a real impact on the pollution of the planet. It’s a win all around.
It starts with reducing the amount of food we buy. The reason we toss out so much food is that we buy more than we need. I find it helps to not go grocery shopping hungry. I buy way more than I should when I want to eat everything in sight. Most of the time, I try to plan my meals and make my shopping list in advance. Also, I try to make a few quick trips to shop throughout the course of the week. Although I plan ahead, something always comes up to change my plans and I don’t want to have food go unused as a result. If I’m not completely sure I’ll use a perishable item, I don’t buy until I know I will.
No, I’m not saying your cooking is bad. You probably just have ways to use food more effectively. It’s common sense, I know, but if you cook more than you can eat at one time, then plan to have leftovers and to eat them in a timely fashion or store them in the freezer. I cannot fathom why anyone would throw out their leftover cooking instead of eating it for lunch the next day or dinner the next night. If for some reason you refuse to do so, then start inviting friends over when you cook.
Consider and research ways in which to repurpose food scraps. For instance, did you know you can make apple jelly out of apple peels and vegetable broth out of vegetable peels? Just store scraps in the freezer until you’re ready to use them. You may still have the scraps to deal with afterward, but at least you ensured you got your money’s worth out of them, and chances are they are compostable.
Another common misconception is the use and sell-by dates on food packages. People throw out perfectly good food all the time because of a date on a label. In most cases, ignore the date and use your nose. If it smells and tastes fine, then keep it.
Donate or giveaway
With multiple food shelves and soup kitchens in Rutland, there are plenty of places to donate unused food. And they’re always in need of donations. They each have their own guidelines on what they will accept, but whether it’s canned goods, garden produce or leftovers from a party, you may be able to find someone who will take it. You can also check with your friends, family, or neighbors.
We compost in our home because we have a big vegetable garden. After the compost breaks down, it goes back into the raised beds in the backyard to help serve as fertilizer to grow more food. That said, we could still compost more than we do. Sometimes I get lazy, and that’s no excuse.
A good place to start is with an inexpensive and unobtrusive compost bin that you can buy from almost anywhere these days, including the Rutland County Solid Waste District. You can find some on their website at rcswd.com.
Composting is not difficult. You just need to balance the addition of food scraps with materials such as shredded leaves. The compost needs to be turned so air can get to it, and receive some occasional water to keep it moist. That’s a vague explanation, I know, but really, it’s easier than you think.
Some places, such as Montreal, have a home composting law that requires any eligible food scraps to go into a small compost bin that is picked up weekly on the street. Vermont has a law that should go into effect in 2020 with a similar requirement. It remains unclear exactly how that process will work.
Buying solar panels or completely avoiding single-use plastics are not always feasible ways for everyone to increase their sustainability efforts. But managing our food waste is a reasonable and cost-saving feat that almost everyone can find a way to implement.