If you grew up in the United States in the 1980s, chances are your parents probably repeated the same "there-are-starving-children-in-Africa" line to guilt you into finishing your dinner plate as mine did. While the televised images of hungry kids on a continent far away still resonate, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that a third of food produced globally is lost or wasted, amounting to 1.3 billion tons and costing $750 billion annually, or food that could feed 2 billion people. Here at home, 40 percent of food is wasted in the United States today, amounting to $165 billion worth of food produced that goes uneaten each year.
Food loss and waste occurs at all points in the food supply chain -- from farming to distribution, retail to restaurants, and at home. While farmers and the rest of the chain attempt to tackle the problem by modifying their methods, you can also be part of the solution -- without having to take any drastic steps. What are some easy actions you can take today to reduce food waste at home -- and save your hard-earned dollars?
Be Part of the Solution
Here are five simple ways to make an instant impact:
1. Use your senses. Instead of relying on food date labels on packaged food, inspect it to see if it has gone bad before tossing (the "sniff" test). The current system of food dating reflects more on protecting brand reputation than on food safety, with the "best by" or "sell by" dates reflecting optimum taste but not necessarily spoilage.
2. Embrace "ugly". Buy and consume cosmetically "imperfect" produce. Blemished or misshapen fruits and vegetables are just as edible and nutritious as more visually uniform produce, and sometimes priced lower simply based on such surface qualities, which disappear with a kitchen knife.
3. Get creative in the kitchen. Leafy greens and fresh herbs gone a touch soft in the refrigerator? Instead of tossing wilted produce into the compost or trash, juice them or blend them into smoothies for breakfast. Drop them into soups and stews, or add them to stir-fry. Top a pizza before popping into the oven. Bake them into a casserole or muffins (think carrot cake and zucchini bread).
4. Reduce portions and purchases. Planning ahead may not always be possible, but pausing before making that bulk discount purchase or freezing extra portions (whether cooked, raw or wilted) for later consumption can keep uneaten food from being tossed into the trash.
5. Spread the word. Share your savings tips -- teach kids, show family and friends and advocate through your social networks. The Natural Resources Defense Council has a handy two-page guide with infographics and additional tips you can reference and post.
These small changes in daily actions can make a huge impact -- on your finances, and the health of our community. Give one (or all) a try. Be part of the solution today.
Follow Emily Chen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msemilychen