In a 2013 report the London-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers estimated that between one-third and one-half of all food produced worldwide is wasted every year -- "approximately 45 percent of all fruits and vegetables, 35 percent of fish and seafood, 30 percent of cereals and 20 percent of meat and dairy products." The organization faulted unnecessarily strict sell-by and use-by dates, sales that encouraged shoppers to buy more than they could use, and the reluctance of markets to sell "ugly" food. The statistics are even more sobering. Supermarket News reports, at the same time as an estimated 72 billion pounds of food ends up in a U.S. landfill, 42 million Americans are struggling with food insecurity and hunger.
Large food retailers, such as Target, Whole Foods and Kroger supermarkets, are stepping up to help cut down on the waste by upgrading inventory systems, eliminating middlemen, partnering with farmers, increasing the amount and quality of donations to food banks and other charities, and educating shoppers about the issues.
Cutting down on the food that goes to waste in your own home won't immediately help feed the hungry -- but it will help raise consciousness about the problem, reduce environmental pollution and even save you a bit of money. The National Resources Defense Council estimate a family of four could save $1,500 a year by changing the way they shop, cook and handle leftover food at home.
Want a better picture of the amount of food Americans waste? Think about going to the market, buying three bags of food, putting two of the bags in your car, and leaving the third bag in the parking lot. That's what it means to trash 30 percent of our food supply.
And, "once buried in landfills," the NRDC says, "organic waste produces methane, a greenhouse gas that's far more dangerous than carbon dioxide, plus other toxins that can leach into groundwater." Home composting helps to a certain extent by keeping personal food waste out of the community stream, but it doesn't address the source of the problem.
Food journalist Cinda Chavich was so shocked by what she learned about food waste and its contribution to global warming that she wrote The Waste Not, Want Not Cookbook to offer practical help to people who wanted to help make a difference.
Everyone can cut down on food waste, Chavich says, by changing just a few small habits. Use up leftover veggies, meats and grains by turning them into stir-fries, fried rice, frittatas, sweet and savory bread puddings, omelets and burritos -- or by throwing everything left in the fridge into a soup pot at the end of each week. You may have some odd meals at first, but with a little imagination -- and a lot of practice -- you can enjoy the challenge of finding five ways to use every bit of that chicken, repurpose that soft apple, or rescue that wilted lettuce and browning broccoli.
Resolve to clean out the fridge and pantry before going out to buy more food. And only buy more than you need if you can freeze, can or otherwise safely store the excess.
Reducing food waste at home, Chavich says, is really quite simple: Buy only what you need and eat everything you buy.
For more information and inspiration: savethefood.com; LoveFoodHateWaste.com; thinkeatsave.org; www.stilltasty.com