Waste Not Wednesday: What is food waste?

(Photo by Pixabay)

A restaurant manager looks begrudgingly at the four cases of tomatoes he’s about to throw out at the end of a shift. A grocery store owner packs up the remains of his inventory that he can’t use. A teen with dish duty for the evening scrapes off the lingering mashed potatoes from her dinner plate. What do all these scenarios have in common? They are examples of food waste, a growing food security issue. Food waste is a social, economic and environmental triple-threat, bearing serious impacts on the way we live.

As a kid, you were always told to finish your plate. There’s a huge stigma against this misuse of resources, yet a very paradoxical relationship between the amount of food we produce as a nation and the number of people that are hungry. Approximately one-third of all food produced worldwide results in food waste or loss within food production and consumption systems. When this data is converted to calories, this means that roughly 1 in 4 calories intended for consumption is never actually consumed.

Food waste is more than just scraping off your mashed potatoes after Sunday dinner. In addition to households, food waste can be recovered from schools, grocery stores, and restaurants, many of which are prohibited from donating the excess to charities. Food waste can occur at every step of the supply chain, streaming from producers, distributors, and finally, the consumer. Every group involved is accountable for the overall problem.

In farming, fruits and vegetables that are either never harvested or lost between the harvest and the sale constitutes food waste at the production level. Farmers also overproduce in an effort to compensate for inclement mishaps such as harsh weather events, or infestation. Furthermore, farmers need to have a good eye for style — food style, that is. The aesthetic value of food is of huge concern to farmers for fear of not being able to sell the so-called “ugly produce.” As a result, only the best-looking produce is harvested, with the rest of this unappealing, yet perfectly edible food piling into a rotting heap.

At a glance, these truths can be very overwhelming. However, the solution to the food waste epidemic really starts with you—the consumer. Anyone can reduce your foodprint by incorporating preventative steps into your daily life.

Start out small

Begin at home:

  • Save those scraps! Repurpose leftover peels and rinds from kitchen prep and use them for homemade stocks and broths.
  • Fridge real estate: Learn how to store your groceries in the fridge properly so that they don’t go bad early on you.
  • Preserve and please: Preserving is so easy and can be actually be quite fun. Get creative with pickled watermelon rinds, apples, and cherries.
  • Compost! No backyard? No problem! Place a small compost bin under the sink or collect food scraps into a paper bag and stash it in the freezer.
  • Get the deets on the dates: You know those arbitrary deadlines stamped onto food labels? Turns out they’re pretty flexible — it’s more of a suggestion for peak freshness. Our sense of smell is a much better tool to gauge a food’s edibility. If you’re getting an offish vibe from your produce, it’s probably time to toss it — or compost it (please!) 

Shop smart

  • Stick to your list: Keep a running list of your favorite home meals and plan your grocery shopping accordingly. Only buy what you need.
  • Know yourself, know your (food’s) worth: How often do you cook? Are you really going to eat a week’s worth of quinoa? If you’re a college student vs. the head of a family of four, your shopping cart is going to look different. Keep that in mind as you’re strolling through the aisle.
  • Buy ugly produce: It’s still pretty — and delicious — on the inside. If weird-looking fruits or vegetables freak you out, blend them into soups, smoothies, or spreads. It’s all the same anyway. No one will ever know.

ABOUT THE PROJECT

This is part five of a six-part series. Waste Not Wednesday is a community engagement project created by Ayse Muratoglu, a 2015-2016 Emerging Leader for Food Security for the Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge Program. The yearlong program takes 10 college sophomores who will work with Land O’Lakes experts to explore issues of food security, and find ways to feed the world. To learn more about the Global Food Challenge, join the conversation at http://foodchallenge.landolakesinc.com/

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