Here’s a scary fact: according to recent studies, about 40% of the food in the United States is wasted.
Reading this statistic made me take a hard look at my own food waste habits. How many times had I let a piece of fruit become too ripe on the counter, and then toss it, uneaten, in the trash? More times than I’d like to admit. One avocado here, a banana there… it all adds up.
The high percentage of waste has a few causes. For one, there’s an abundance of affordable food here. When food becomes affordable, people are less hesitant to throw it away, since they can just buy more during their next trip to the store.
Americans also love aesthetically-pleasing produce, which is causing huge amounts of fruits and vegetables to be discarded before they ever reach the store. Although the “perfect food” trend may have started back in the 40s, in the era of Instagram and Photoshop, the trend is continuing at full speed. People tend to (erroneously) associate beautiful produce as safer and more nutritious, and therefore will often neglect to buy the less visually appealing options.
It’s clear that food waste is a big problem, but luckily each of us can play an important part in the solution. How can you and your family waste less food?
1. Plan your meals and buy only what you need. Too often, I’d show up to the grocery store while hungry and tired, and I’d buy a bunch of random things without a plan. Instead, if you plan your meals in advance, you’re more likely to eat everything you purchase and adhere to your budget at the same time.
2. Buy ugly produce. It’s a hard habit to break, but the next time you head to the grocery store, try to buy the “ugliest” (but, of course, not rotten) items you see. Buy the pepper with a mix of red and green coloring or the potato that looks like it has two legs. As long as the produce is still fresh, it will cook up the same as the “pretty” options and provide the same nutritional value. (For more information, check out the clever start up Imperfect Produce that delivers eccentric produce to your door.)
3. Buy local. If possible, try to buy produce from a nearby farmer. The less distance that food has to travel, the less likely it will be spoiled or inedible when it reaches its final destination.
4. Get creative. If you find yourself with five random ingredients left in your fridge, pretend you’re on Chopped and create the most unique dish ever. My husband is particularly good at this: he’s known for sneaking shredded carrots into spaghetti sauce, and nobody is the wiser. Who knows, you may discover a new awesome recipe.
5. Share with your pets. In moderation, and as long as the food is safe for pet consumption (check for a list of dog-safe foods here), you can occasionally mix leftovers in with your pet’s food. My dog Maddie is a huge fan of bread (she once ate an entire bag of buns when I wasn’t looking), and I’ve heard carrots can be a healthy alternative to bones. Sweet potatoes and brown rice are also healthy options.
6. Clean your plate. Make it a point to eat everything on your plate, even if it takes a bit of extra effort. If you make this a habit, you’ll be more likely to clear your fridge before the next grocery store run.
Food waste is a big problem right now, but there is good news: as awareness grows throughout the world, there is growing momentum to address the waste and make positive changes. Many countries are donating unused food to charities and well-known chefs are encouraging people to enjoy imperfect produce. In particular, France has passed legislation that requires all large grocery stores to donate unsold food to charity. We all have a part to play to waste less, and together we can stop this crisis.