This weekend, as I discarded yet another item (cherries) that had gone bad in the back of my refrigerator, my conscience went into overdrive. I waste too much food. There, I said it. The public announcement nature of that sentence won’t change anything, but at least my guilt is now shared publicly – the first step in the quest to change my own behavior.
No, actually, it’s the second step. My first was to investigate food waste facts. The worldwide situation is staggering.
- ”One-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is thrown away or lost…” – UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)
- And as you might guess, developed world consumers waste far more than do consumers in less developed countries. According to the FAO, Europeans and North Americans waste approximately 209 – 253 pounds per person per year, while people in Sub-Saharan Africa and South-Southeast Asia waste is only about 13-24 pounds per year.
What’s the Household-Level Food Waste Story?
A 2012 British survey found that about 80% of the wasted food in households surveyed occurred because of food spoils; the remaining 20% of the wasted food occurred because the cook either made too much for the household or served individual portions that were too large, resulting in “plate waste.”
Our friends at the Department of Agriculture have estimated food waste in American households by types of food. Unless you’re an incredible geek, you’re not in the habit of reading the charts in government reports, but believe me, these charts are fascinating if you want to get the real scoop on food wasting in American households. Among the most wasted foods are:
- Fresh and frozen fish and shellfish (40% wasted),
- Turkey (35% wasted),
- Various non-processed cheeses (as high as 50% wasted),
- Frozen yogurt and other frozen items (33% wasted.)
The fresh fruit and vegetable numbers make me want to cry. Fresh cherries are toward the top of the list (51% wasted) – no surprise given my weekend discovery – as are sweet potatoes (44% wasted) and onions (43% wasted.)
What Am I Going to Do to Lower My Food Waste?
I already do a pretty good job of eating leftovers, serving smaller portions, and freezing uncooked meat and prepared dishes in small portions. Although I applaud those who do, I’m not going to compost – at least not yet. But I am going to:
- Shop smarter – I have vowed not to buy food unless I have a plan to use it, not just because it looks good or is on sale.
- Mine my refrigerator – seek out the tired, the poor, and the practically unusable yearning to be put into soup or another dish where minor imperfections can be ignored.
- Figure out how I can encourage retailers and wholesalers to join the movement to lower the food waste that occurs at their levels of the food chain.
Less would mean we could feed more people and save lots of energy and landfill space that now goes to dealing with our garbage. Personally, I would definitely save a few dollars too.
If you want to read more about these issues, here are several informative resources:
- The National Resources Defense Council Food Facts entitled “Your Scraps Add Up”
- Report (2009) entitled “The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and its Environmental Impact.”
- The EPA factsheet “Reducing Wasted Food Basics”
- An interesting website, Wasted Food, created by Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland.