Waste Not, Want Not. Really.

No one likes waste. Regardless of your political stance, waste just sucks. It doesn’t benefit anyone, and it’s so not sexy. And food waste is just a travesty. We’re not talking about food that has spoiled or gone bad. According to a report from the USDA that came out in February of 2014, “‘Food Loss’ represents the amount of edible food, postharvest, that is available for human consumption but is not consumed for any reason.” Perfectly good food. So, just how bad is it? That same report had this to say:

“In the United States, 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. The estimated value of this food loss was $161.6 billion using retail prices. For the first time, ERS estimated the calories associated with food loss: 141 trillion in 2010, or 1,249 calories per capita per day.

“1,249 calories per capita per day” = Enough to feed everyone everyday. That’s a whole lot of waste.

That’s the problem. But here at Lust for Cooking, we’re all about solutions.

Looking back at the above quote, there are two major holes in the bucket, so to speak, “the retail and the consumer levels,” and things can be done at both levels.

  • In Italy a law is set to pass that will make it easier for grocery stores to donate their older food to charity. They can receive a reduction in “rubbish tax” in correlation to amount of donated food.
  • France takes it one step further, and has introduced a law that would actually require supermarkets to donate their food and would fine them if they do not.
  • A non-profit in Denmark has opened a supermarket that sells the food cast-offs at a significantly lower price to those with limited incomes.

Is it possible that any one of these may work in the United States as well?

And how about the consumer level? That’s the level that we have the most control over. We are the consumers, so how do we manage waste in our homes? There are so many ways, and one thing that becoming a passionate home cook will allow you to do is take control of the food flow in the kitchen. Here are my top recommendations.

It starts in the grocery store –

The absolute best thing you can do is pre-plan your meals. Going to the grocery store with no plan, and often with a growling stomach, can lead to serious impulse shopping. “Oooo! Smoked Salmon!” Yeah, that will probably get thrown away. And it will probably still be edible. Plan your meals for the week, and then buy only what you will need for those meals. Limit the snacks to those that you absolutely have to have.

Don’t buy processed food, or limit it as much as you can. It sounds like it would be a good idea, in theory. All those preservatives, it will sit on my shelf forever! The problem is, they do. And then when you finally have that impulse to clean out the cupboard, it’s all those boxes of supposedly stale crackers and cereals that get thrown in the garbage.

Compost! If you garden, composting is the best. Most of your veggie scraps can be turned into awesome plant food. So can your coffee grinds (filter and all) and your eggshells. Just remember, nothing from the onion family. They don’t get along. For more on composting, check out this site.

If you, instead, have a no outdoor space, are particular repugnant to plants, or, like me, live at high altitudes where composting would be a critter dinner bell, you can still put those veggies to good use! Put a large Tupperware in the freezer and fill it with your veggie leftovers throughout the week and then when you’re at capacity make a stock. Chicken, veggie, beef, pork, whatever. The onion family is welcome here, but I would skip the coffee grinds and eggshells. Just sayin’.

If you know of some good household tips to prevent food waste, or know of any region or organization that is championing the cause (food rescuers in the US?), please share in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Waste Not, Want Not. Really.

  1. Speaking of food champions that don’t waste food . . . Trader Joe’s (at least the one in Hollywood) takes all of their slightly old food that’s still edible, and donates it to a rehabilitation center/church/home for recovering drug addicts. It’s lots of food every week and those recovering learn how to prepare the food in their kitchen. This is a great system, and some even go on to get jobs working at Trader Joe’s!!! Go Trader Joe’s!!

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