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How can I reduce my food waste?

May 4, 2011

Tomorrow, I’m going to serve on a panel in response to the new documentary film Dive! which will be showing at Calvin College in the recital hall of the Covenant Fine Arts Center. Dive! is a film about people who eat food after it has been thrown into the dumpster. They’re called “freegans” in some circles and they practice “diving” (as in–diving into the garbage for food). If you want to learn more about this film, check out its website by clicking here. 

Now, you’re probably wondering if I’m a freegan. I’m not, but I’ve taught about it and I think it’s generally a good idea, except that some freegan diets are heavy on the refined flours and sugars. But I haven’t seen the film yet and I’ve read about a number of divers who eat quite healthfully.

Mostly, I’m interested in this film because it deals with the topic of food waste, which is a passion of mine. Or an anti-passion, perhaps. I hate food waste. When I teach about food, I share some of the following information about waste and how much we waste and how to reduce our own food waste.

How much do we waste?

In a 2003 University of Arizona study by Dr. Timothy Jones, a  “contemporary archeologist” (someone who studies trash) the food waste created by farming, restaurants, convenience stores, and homes was studied.

It found that over $100 billion worth of edible food is thrown out or unharvested each year.

More than 50 million tons of edible food are wasted in the United States every year.

(50 million tons of edible food weigh as much as 500,000 Boeing 757 airplanes.)

(Based on the current U.S. population, this is about 333 pounds of food waste per person per year.)

(If the average person eats 2,175 pounds of food yearly, this is enough food to feed 46 million people for a year.)

(It is estimated that 9 million people die from hunger each year.)

Farming Waste

    • 12% of American crops ($20 billion) go unharvested due to difficulty in predicting demand.
    • Farmers often plow under marginally profitable crops rather than risk losing money on a harvest.
    • Government subsidies encourage overproduction.
    • So do high-profit products such as broccoli crowns and specialty salad mixes.
    • Some farmers leave crops in fields when they can’t find workers to pick them.

Restaurant Waste

    • Retailers, including restaurants, throw away 35 million tons a year, valued at $30 billion.
    • Fast food restaurants throw out 10% of the food they prepare.
    • Jones found that small “mom and pop” restaurants and convenience stores had much lower rates of waste than chain restaurants did.
    • However, smaller fast-food chains had much higher waste rates than the larger ones, sometimes throwing out 50% of their food.
American Households
    • 14% of the foods Americans buy ends up in the trash, about $43 billion a year. This does not include plate scraps. (And remember, this is from a 2003 study.)
    • American households throw away 1.28 lbs. of food a day, not including scraps that go down the garbage disposal or into the compost bin.
    • 27% of this food is vegetable.
    • 14% is packaged food in their original containers with valid expiration dates.
    • Latino households throw away 25% less food than non-Latino households.

“People look at (food) as a commodity or a product to be consumed and not something that nourishes and sustains our bodies.”

–Dr. Timothy W. Jones

Jones also found that consumers believe they are healthier and more frugal than they are.

You can start reducing food waste at home.

Simple Ways to Waste Less

    • Monitor what’s inside the fridge
    • Eat leftovers for lunch
    • Make a meal plan, go shopping (only buy what you’ll need), and stick with the plan
    • Learn how to use foods you may have previously thrown away.
    • www.lovefoodhatewaste.com
Waste Less Bread
    • Make bread crumbs or croutons with stale bread.
    • Use the crumbs in in meatloaves or burgers.
    • Make French toast with stale bread.
    • Make a sweet or savory bread pudding with bread, eggs, milk, and seasonings.
    • Make stuffing and stuff a turkey, chicken, or vegetables including zucchini, mushrooms, and tomatoes.
    • Make a bread salad with tomatoes, cucumber, olives, cheese, and homemade Italian dressing.
    • See The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book for great suggestions about ways to use bread crumbs.
Waste Fewer Beans, Soybeans, and Lentils
    • Purchase dry beans and soak overnight (or for several hours in boiling water) instead of using canned beans.
    • Mash, season, and cook leftover beans to make a variation of refried beans.
    • Add leftover beans to salads, soups, or rice/grain dishes.
    • In recipes, many beans can be substituted for other types of beans. Use what you have if you can.
Waste Less Rice
    • Use leftover rice to make fried rice; sauté onions or vegetables and add cold rice with meat, egg, or tofu.
    • Add small amounts of plain leftover cooked rice to pancake or waffle batter.
    • Make a rice pancake: rice + egg + flavoring cooked in a pan.
    • Add to soup or other main dishes.
    • Add leftover rice to a frittata!
    • Use cooked rice in cabbage rolls or dolmades (stuffed grape leaves).
Waste Less Milk
    • Milk that is no longer sweet is not rotten. Its bacterial composition has changed and it can be safely used for cooking.
    • Through bacterial fermentation, over time, milk will develop an acidic taste and smell.
    • Sour milk can be substituted in baking recipes that call for buttermilk—especially when buttermilk is used in conjunction with baking soda
    • Use in pancakes, biscuits, scones, muffins, waffles, etc.
Waste Fewer Vegetables
    • Collect bits of cooked vegetables in a container in a freezer to use to make soup.
    • Pour oil and vinegar dressing over cooked vegetables, refrigerate, and serve as a salad.
    • Add leftover corn to corn bread or muffins.
    • Add leftover vegetables to curries, fried rice, or other leftovers.
    • If you purchase too many vegetables at the market and realize it later, freeze the vegetables before they go limp and use them later.
Prepare to Waste Less in the Harvest Season
    • Freeze vegetables from your garden or the farmer’s market.
    • Try canning. Start with jam, then sauces (chutney, tomato sauce, salsa), then try pickles. Canning is not as intimidating as it sounds.
    • Dry herbs and some vegetables (peppers, celery, tomatoes) if you don’t have much storage room.
We can all work together to reduce the amount of waste we create.
Like all journeys, this one starts at home.





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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 23, 2011 2:07 pm

    I’ve got a “wondering Wednesday” question for ya. Any advice on how to make quiche? It is one of my favorite foods to eat — I’ve had fabulously unique quiches as well as classicly delicious quiche lorraine. I love ’em all.
    But have had a quite poor success rate in making my own. Maybe 1 or 2 total of all the recipes I’ve tried (even including very strictly following one from Cook’s Illustrated) have turned out good. Often they are runny or I’ve undercooked the crust, etc. I’ve learned some tricks along the way regarding the crust, bringing eggs/milk to room temp before cooking, etc. BUT I can’t seem to find a good recipe that has the right texture. The last one I made (and I labored to do it perfectly) felt too “wet” when eating — it was cooked through, but it had too much of a pudding consistency b/c I think the recipe was heavy on milk/cream and too light on the eggs.
    Thoughts? advice? similar struggles?

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