It’s 10 o’clock at night, and Tyson Roberts has less than 8 hours to package onions, load them on trailers, and get a good night’s rest before he starts harvesting again in the morning. His wife, bundled in a jacket against the chilly September night, helps package on the other side of the conveyer belt. They call it a date.
The story is the same for hundreds of farmers in Utah, putting in extremely long hours to deliver a product to market. Why? Because they love it.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently produced a viral video chronicling the “life and times of a strawberry” from the field to store to fridge, and finally, to trash. In the video, the unfortunately protagonist strawberry and its surrounding crate mates are purchased on impulse from the store and then left to rot in the fridge.
According to the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA), 40%, or 133 billion pounds, of all food produced in the United States is wasted every year, with the majority ending up in landfills. Like the strawberries in the video illustrate, it’s not merely a waste of food, but of fuel, water, labor, and most importantly, love.
So what can be done? Food waste occurs at every point in the United States’ fabulous food machine, but unless we are farmers or policy makers ourselves, the principal aspect we have control over is our own consumption and waste. What can every individual do to minimize his or her waste?
- Begin with easy habit changes. Recognize if, and how much food you waste. Do you find yourself throwing away cartons of moldy produce every week? Is there a product you always buy with good intentions but never finish before it expires? Acknowledging habits is the first step to change.
- Be willing to buy imperfect produce. Strangely shaped or blemished produce is perfectly normal and will taste the same. If no one buys them, they will most likely be thrown away by the store.
- Plan your meals before you shop, and stick to your list. Much of my own food waste has occurred from an impulsive buy that I never got around to preparing.
- Challenge yourself to re-invent one set of leftovers in your week. For example, making stock from chicken bones. www.lovefoodhatewaste.com has a whole section of their website dedicated to recipes made specifically from leftovers.
- Freeze ingredients that you know you won’t be able to use before they go bad. I certainly didn’t know that you can freeze pretty much anything you can buy from the store, with certain preparations. www.savethefood.com has a comprehensive, user-friendly, guide to what can be frozen, and how to do it.
- Learn how to revive seemingly expired food. Some products are still perfectly safe to eat, even if they have fuzzy spots. Cheese, carrots and cabbage are all still safe to eat when moldy spots are cut off, just be sure to cut 1 cm around the mold. Others, like wilted greens or celery, can be perked back up by a quick soak in ice cold water.
- If you have leftovers or scraps you absolutely cannot use, give them first to an animal (dog, chickens etc.) If you don’t own any animals, create a compost pile or bucket.
- Use phone apps to cut-down on waste. With the Handpick App, you can select items you already have in your fridge, and it will find a recipe to help you use them. www.Allrecipes.com also has a feature to search for recipes based on your ingredients. The Foodfully app can track what you buy, remind you of your purchase still in the cupboard/fridge, and give you recipes to use them while they’re still fresh.
- Grow a garden, or visit a farm. Children and adults alike are more likely to eat things they understand or helped grow. They can also gain appreciation and respect for the resources used to produce food.