Nutritious Food Waste: Waste Not, Want Not!

By Shomita Bhattacharya, Program Specialist

According to the USDA, America wastes 30-40% of our food supply every year. In 2010, this totaled 133 billion pounds of food, worth $161 billion! These are large numbers that describe the food waste of the entire nation, but what do they mean in terms of individuals like you and me? The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future analyzed the nutritional composition of wasted food in the United States, and found that on average, the amount of food wasted per person per day in the US is equivalent to:

The USDA states that an average moderately-active male aged 26-30 should consume 2,600 calories per day, and an average female aged 26-30 should consume 2,000 calories. That means on average, America is wasting almost half (or more!) of a person’s suggested calorie intake, per American, every day! Even worse, researchers from John Hopkins found that the foods most likely to be wasted are nutrient-dense items like fruits, vegetables, seafood and dairy. Wasting food also means wasting the resources that went into growing it, and wasted food sent to landfills helps to produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Recognizing this issue, the USDA and EPA have set a goal to cut food waste in half by 2030. That’s a big goal, and you may be wondering what you can do as an individual to help meet it.  Here are some great tips to help you reduce wasted food, reduce your carbon footprint, and maybe save some money!

The EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy shows the most preferred ways to reduce food waste. Source reduction (like buying only as much food as you will be able to use before it spoils) is the most preferable option for reducing wasted food.

• Plan ahead. Schedule your meals for the week to come before shopping and make a list so you know exactly what you’ll need to buy, and you don’t purchase items you won’t end up using.

• Know your labels. Grocery stores often sell items that are slightly ugly or bruised, or reaching their ‘sell by’ dates at a discounted price. Know that ‘‘best by’ or ‘sell by’ dates don’t indicate that a food is unsafe after that date; they’re simply the manufacturer’s estimate of when the product will no longer be at peak quality. Keep your eyes open for such products and save money!

• Store food well. You can increase the shelf life of various items, especially if they are slightly stale or overripe, by utilizing various storage strategies such as freezing and drying/dehydrating. Check out our blog post on tips for storage of specific foods.

•Cooking. Take stock of the ingredients from your fridge and pantry and focus your recipe on them. Check out Save the Food and USDA’s ‘What’s Cooking?’ for unique recipes using ingredients that are conventionally thrown away, like beet or carrot greens. Also, save unused food for later. For example, if you’re making a dish with a lot of vegetables, consider boiling the scraps into a stock for soup! Check out this blog post for tips on extending the useful life of several types of foods.

• Eat your leftovers. You’ve already paid for and prepared this food, so throwing it away wastes that money and effort. Bring them to work or school for lunch, or get creative! If you had mashed potatoes on Tuesday, why not use the leftovers for shepherd’s pie on Thursday night? The fridge is the limit!

• Share the wealth. Did you accidentally buy the wrong kind of beans? Did you buy several cans of soup or jars of tomato sauce only to find out you don’t like it? Across America, there are food banks and pantries that would love to take that food off your hands.  Visit FeedingAmerica.org or Food Pantries.org to find ways to get that perfectly good food to people who need it.

For more on wasted food, keep an eye on our blog. For more on this study, watch this video produced by the Center for a Livable Future.

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