We all love food, right? I love biting into a delicious Colorado peach in the summer, topping a pizza crust with a savory, homemade marinara sauce, or whipping up a stir-fry using only the tastiest veggies from my GoFarm share. But it’s startling that as much as we all love food, our society is so willing to throw it away.
40% of the food that’s grown, goes into landfill? 40 PERCENT! I hope you are as disturbed by this number as I am, as this also comes at a cost of $165 billion to the U.S. economy.
Food waste occurs all along the food chain, from production to consumption. And even though there are a lot more details that what I will explain in this blog post – here is an overview to help you understand how this is possible.
1. On the farm
Waste occurs when food is left on fields due to inefficiency in picking, or when it can’t be sold to grocery stores because it doesn’t look perfect enough.
2. In the manufacturing facility
Waste occurs because grocery stores can easily cancel last minute orders due to changes in demand, and it leaves massive amounts of food un-purchased.
3. In the grocery store
Waste occurs because arbitrary expiration and sell-by dates are set just to move through product more quickly.
4. In commercial kitchens
Waste occurs at hospitals, schools, restaurants, catering companies, etc when they buy way more than they need – in order to make it seem endless.
5. At home, in our kitchen
Waste occurs when we let the food in their fridge rot, or bags of chips go stale, leftovers go uneaten. It happens when we cook fresh foods and put all the scraps in the trash bin. In fact, a 2012 report from the NRDC finds that "20% of food that the average American buys is never eaten."
In all of these scenarios throughout the food chain – perfectly good, delicious food goes to the trash. This adds up to over 1 billion tons of food per year!
Why is this so bad? Here are my top three reasons:
1. Climate Change
Throwing food in the landfill is a significant source of climate change because when food decomposes without being exposed to any oxygen, it breaks down and releases methane into the air – a chemical 10 times more potent than carbon dioxide. For this reason, a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization claimed that if food waste was a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitting country in the world.
2. Waste of Resources
Natural resources such as water, land and soil, are finite resources. And we’re starting to run out. Across the globe, agriculture comprises about 2/3 of our water usage. And in their 2012 report, the NRDC explains, “Getting food to our tables eats up 10% of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50% of U.S. land, and swallows 80% of freshwater consumed in the United States.” So for every meal you throw away, you're not only wasting the food, but you are wasting all of the recourses it took to grow and create that meal.
Did you know that 10% of Coloradans struggle with hunger, meaning they don’t having affordable access to buy enough healthy food to sustain them. This is NOT because we aren’t growing enough food, but because we’re throwing away the food that we’re growing and we’re not moving it around the system efficiently to get to the people who need it. The NRDC report states that, "Reducing food waste by just 15% would be enough to feed more than 25 million Americans every year."
These consequences are daunting, but there's something we can do about it! So much of the food we waste happens in our kitchen, so here are some ways YOU can reduce your food waste and make an impact!
1. Smarter Buying
By buy only what you know you’ll eat, you will reduce your at-home food waste with less food sitting on the counter going uneaten. You will also help the grocery stores better understand eating habits, with the hopes of them buying less based on more realistic demand. This may mean you plan your meals better, organize your kitchen so you know what you have, and eat your leftovers! You will not just be wasting less at home, but you’ll be helping the system become more efficient.
2. Take Expiration Dates with a Grain of Salt.
These dates (sell-by, best-by, use-by) are very confusing, and are arbitrary dates that are more about moving through product, than health concerns. Eggs can last over a month, greens and milk last until they smell bad. When in doubt – use the sniff test! Don’t assume food needs to get thrown away just because of the date.
By diverting food away from landfills where it will rapidly increase greenhouse gases, we can turn it into healthy, vibrant soil instead. Compost keeps our landfills smaller and keeps our soils healthier. This in turn creates healthier farming practices, produces healthier food, and allows our soil to sequester more carbon which combats climate change. There are lots of affordable ways to compost: you can do it at home, sign up for a compost service, or bring your scraps to GoFarm during our Local Food Share season!
4. Eat Locally and Join a CSA or Local Food Share
Eating locally supports local farmers and bridges your connection to your food. This is important so that you maintain an appreciate for what’s on your plate, making you more likely to eat it all up! You will also be driving a system where food is grown more sustainably and has very few supply chain inefficiencies mentioned above. By buying your food from GoFarm or another CSA, you are removing yourself from global food supply chain – and you are supporting a model that is SO BENEFICIAL to our local and global environment.
If we can all start making these changes at home, we can show our food how much we love it!