How many of these behaviors do you recognize?
- Buying or cooking more food than you can eat.
- Buying food products transported from distant sources when you could buy the same thing from local producers.
- Buying produce from faraway places like California, Mexico, and Chile.
- Buying produce that is out of season and tasteless and then throwing it away.
- Buying too much perishable food (meat/milk products/produce/deli) and then throwing it away.
- Succumbing to BOGO and sale offers or buying in bulk when you don’t need it.
- Throwing away food that has exceeded sell-by date, but still looks good.
- Buying “baby carrots” instead of whole carrots.
- Searching through produce displays to find the “perfect” apple/pear/cucumber, etc.
- Your freezer is a black hole where things go in and never come out.
- Buying ingredients on impulse for inspirations that don’t last beyond the store exit.
- Going to the grocery store without checking to see what you have on hand.
- Planning meals, then eating out or picking up because you don’t feel like cooking.
- Throwing away leftovers because they have been in the fridge too long.
I have a confession – I have done all those things on a more or less regular basis. Old habits are hard to break and after cooking many years for a large family, I lapse into old patterns even though now I cook for them only occasionally. I rationalize that I am not wasting food because I compost faithfully. But it’s mighty expensive compost when much of the food I am composting has traveled thousands of miles and passed through many hands before reaching the compost bin.
Composting home-grown fruits and vegetables is less wasteful, but your time and effort and the resources invested are still adding to the ultimate real cost of the compost they produce.
I was already feeling guilty about my wasteful habits when I read a book, “Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” edited by Paul Hawken. This is a group of essays created with contributions and reviews by scientists, experts, and researchers worldwide.
It is based on technology and techniques presently available to reverse climate change, together with calculations concerning their effectiveness, cost, and potential results and savings by 2050 if implemented.
It is a fascinating book, and I was surprised and dismayed to learn that food waste is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases. According to Project Drawdown (drawdown.org), reducing food waste is only behind elimination of refrigeration gases and adding more wind turbines as leading solutions to reduction of greenhouse gases.
The statistics are daunting. They reflect that 30% of food produced world-wide is wasted, while in the US that figure rises to 40%. Much food waste is happening in fields, warehouses, restaurants, grocery stores, schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. It is mostly caused by producers, packers, transporters, food services, and retailers, but much is also happening in homes.
The environmental impact comes not only from wasted food, but also from what we select to eat. Animal production is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gases and loss of biodiversity due to land clearing and agricultural expansion.
Eating out or getting delivery presents its own problems. For the most part, you have no control over serving size. Ingredients and prepared foods are shipped long distances to food outlets and undesired sides and garnishes end up in the landfill. Restaurants, buffets, and in-store delis stock prepared food until closing time. Then what happens to it?
Wasted food increases prices and makes wholesome food unavailable to those who need it most.
Food placed in our garbage cans and sent to solid waste facilities is a leading producer of methane gas as it decomposes in anaerobic conditions buried under tons of other waste. This does not consider the packaging wasted, the food miles lost, and all the man-hours, land, and other resources that went into growing, packaging, transporting, and marketing the food which ultimately becomes garbage.
What can we do? Here are some better habits I am working on.
- Grow your own if you can.
- Buy from local sources whenever possible, including CSAs, farmers’ markets, and u-pick facilities.
- Plan your meals.
- Plan meals around foods in season in our area.
- Choose whole foods over processed whenever possible.
- Increase meatless choices.
- Buy only what you need.
- Store it correctly.
- Cook the right amount.
- Eat it all or store leftovers for later use.
- Include leftovers in your meal plans.
- Recycle what you don’t eat on site or with community composters. I have a neighbor who faithfully delivers her compostable waste to my door in a plastic bag to include in my compost bin.
When you walk into the grocery store or read a restaurant menu, give thanks for the abundance displayed and available there. Abundance which we so often take for granted. Be sure to use it wisely.
Janis Piotrowski is a Master Gardner Volunteer with the UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, an Equal Opportunity Institution. She hosts a blog about gardening and sustainable living in North Florida at https://northfloridavegheadz.blogspot.com. For gardening questions, email the extension office at [email protected]
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