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It's practically a rite of American dinnertime passage for kids to have their parents lecture them about wasting food. But the Natural Resources Defense Council says these conversations may be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
According to a new report from the NRDC, 40% of the food our country produces is wasted. That's $165 million worth of perfectly good food, or about 20 lbs. per person per month, that ends up on a garbage truck instead of a plate.
Money isn't the only thing we're throwing away: Food consumes 10% of our energy appetite, 50% of our land, and 80% of our freshwater usage. Wasted food wastes these things, too. And food rotting in landfills produces 23% of U.S. methane emissions, a key greenhouse gas that's 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Much of this waste doesn't happen in our homes but instead occurs on the farm, in processing plants, and at supermarkets. Still, American households throw out about 25% of the food and beverages they purchase at an annual cost of between $1,365 and $2,275 for a family of four.
One of the biggest problems the NRDC identified was widespread misinterpretation of the "use by," "sell by," and "best by" dates that appear on food products. Contrary to public perceptions, these dates have absolutely nothing to do with food safety or edibility. Except in the case of infant formula, they're just unregulated suggestions from the seller about when quality may begin to decline.
If we could prevent just 15% of all food losses, we could feed 25 million more people. Here are ten ways to help:
- Remember that the dates on products represent manufacturer opinion not safety standards. Most foods remain good well past these dates so use your senses to decide when things are no longer edible.
- Check your larder before shopping. Knowing what you've got makes sure you'll buy only what you need.
- Eat before you shop—a rumble in your belly makes more tumble into your cart!
- Resist the temptation to stock up on perishable sale items. Sales are often used to move goods on the brink of expiring. Unless you'll eat a lot of the item fast, skip it.
- Plan ahead. Make a weekly menu, shop with a list, and avoid "impulse" buys.
- Develop a food routine where you eat many of the same things week to week. Repetition will quickly teach you what quantities to buy and how long they'll last.
- Measure by portion size so you cook only what you'll eat. If leftover quantities are frequently too small to do much with, cook a bit more of these items so you'll have enough for another meal.
- Label leftovers with the date. Store the oldest leftovers up front on fridge shelves, and choose them first.
- Be creative with leftovers. Quantities too small for another meal can often go in other dishes. Soups accept almost anything. Or toss yesterday's veggies into tonight's salad.
- Can't figure out what to do with foods going bad? Get a recipe app. Many will search for recipes that use the ingredients you have on hand.
Put ideas like these on your menu and stick a fork in the eye of food waste!
What tactics do you use to reduce food waste in your home?
About the Inkslinger
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds.