March is National Nutrition Month®, which is probably the best month ever (besides all months during fall). National Nutrition Month gives nutrition professionals a chance to geek out about all things nutrition and food. When the word nutrition is used in daily conversation, the immediate reaction is to think about food and diet. However, as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says, nutrition goes further than food. One important topic we often forget to discuss is food waste and how to reduce it. Did you know that:
Up to 40 percent of the food in the United States is never eaten. But at the same time, one in eight Americans struggles to put enough food on the table.
By bringing more awareness to food waste, we hope to enhance our community’s environmental, economical, and social well-being. The goal this month is to continue building healthy habits, while also being more mindful about our own personal food waste. Food waste is no stranger to individuals; whether it is ordering too much at a restaurant or buying too many perishable groceries without a menu plan, we are all guilty one way or another. Being aware of our own food waste habits is the first step for implementing change. Think about your most frequent food waste behavior. Now, think about how you can change that behavior. For me, I get overly ambitious with recipes I want to make during the week. I tend to buy more produce than needed and often see items like herbs or lettuces wilt away before I’m able to use them. Unfortunately, these foods hit the bottom of the garbage can more than I’d like. The issue of food waste stretches beyond our kitchens though. In the United States, food production uses 50% of our land, 30% of all energy resources, and swallows 80% of all freshwater (USDA, 2016). Therefore, we aren’t just throwing away an overproduction of resources that could potentially help end global hunger but we are also putting our environment at risk for survival.
Now that we understand that food waste is a global issue, it’s time to get creative with our solutions. Food innovation is the theme for many companies these days. Companies like Misfit Juicery or Imperfect Produce are examples of progressive companies working to combat food waste by promoting sales of produce deemed “too ugly” to purchase. Why would we not value a fruit or vegetable that simply looks different than normal. Linked below are other fabulous companies who steer away from the norm, and fight for environmental change. This may feel overwhelming and impossible to tackle on your own, but the truth is, change begins at the individual and community level. Here are 10 steps you can make a difference starting today:
- Shop smart and realistically. Make a list before grocery shopping, and stick to that list!
- When cooking, don’t over-serve food. Fight against massive portions, cook reasonably.
- Save AND eat leftovers. Label when the food was put in your fridge and keep it towards the front. If unable to eat it right away, freeze it and save for a back-up meal.
- Properly store foods. Find out what fruits and vegetables should be stored at room temperature and which should be refrigerated.
- Avoid clutter – shop less. As the restaurant saying goes “first in, first out”. Put the older products in front and newer ones that have a longer shelf-life to the back.
- Expiration dates are guidelines. These dates can sometimes identify food quality, not food safety. You be the judge before tossing it away.
- If able, write down what you throw away. This list will help you pinpoint where you over-purchase, and can always highlight your wasteful habit.
- Donate! Our community centers and farms need food. People in need will benefit, as well as livestock on farms.
- Learn a new trick – start to can and pickle. These are great techniques for prolonging shelf-life.
- Compost – give it a shot. This should be the last option, after donation, livestock, and industrial energy. However, our waste deserves a re-purposing.
Link for innovative companies:
Reference: USDA | OCE | U.S. Food Waste Challenge | FAQ’s, www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm.