Wasting Food: Shameful Shoppers, Careless Consumers

I love my leafy salads. I adore my beautiful berries. I revel in a dinner that includes steamed veggies – colors intact, and nutrients at the ready!

But there’s a price to pay – and one higher than I realized and of which I am ashamed.

Waste. Unnecessary waste.

My kitchen counter bears witness as I take a gander and offer this list: two bananas with 24 hours to go before they rot; four Roma tomatoes in a small blue bowl; one can of tuna in olive oil to be put away; two Gala apples purchased more than a week ago; a half dozen red potatoes, organic; one elephant garlic with several cloves consumed; a mango, an avocado, and an assortment of spices.

In the refrigerator is more produce: blueberries and strawberries, spinach and red lettuce, fresh parsley and dill. One of the drawers contains hormone-free sandwich meats and of course, the shelves hold plenty of leftovers. Since I shop at a Farmer’s Market where the abundance of organic foods is impressive, and the prices even more so, I buy in relative bulk and do what I can to preserve and store.

There is easily enough to feed me for five days or longer, and my last trip to the market was five days ago. Of course, if what remains to be eaten spoils before I get to it, then I’m guilty of the same misjudgment as millions of Americans. My eyes are bigger than my stomach, I purchase too much in the name of a bargain, and I waste unintentionally – but waste, nonetheless.

Pantry Foods, Freezer Foods

How to save a buck or two by buying in bulk? How to save myself time in the long-run by cooking ahead?

Sure, it takes a little planning and time, but less time in the long-run. I freeze as much as possible so it doesn’t go bad, including fresh breads and bagels, antibiotic-free chicken and fish, and just enough grass-fed beef to satisfy my weekly craving and assure me essential iron and B vitamins.

I make a point of separating portion sizes as soon as I get home, and storing them immediately.

I can do it in a jiffy. It becomes habit. It certainly saves me money.

I won’t enumerate the entire contents of my fridge or pantry. The former is too easily stuffed (and salads, among my favorite summer meals, too quickly turning droopy); the latter holds an inventory that is uninteresting – largely teas, rice, condiments, and tuna in cans, all of which preserve for a considerable time.

Leftovers? They go in the freezer if I have room, and otherwise they sit in the fridge – though I do my best to consume them quickly.

How Much Food is Wasted Each Year?

I shake my head as I scan the foods on my counter that will be thrown away if I don’t eat them soon. Like many Americans, even those on a budget, I will be throwing out food that should have been properly used.

Did you know that Americans throw away some 90 billion pounds of food each year?

Let me repeat that figure. That’s 90 billion pounds of food thrown away each year in this country. In dollars, this equates to food waste of $1,350 to $2,275 per year, for a family of four.

Think about that. $1500, $1800, two grand. What could you do with that money if you weren’t stuffing it down the disposal or even adding it to the compost? What about the natural resources required to grow it or prepare it – aren’t they wasted, too?

Suggestions for Buying Food Smartly and Not Wasting

This article written in June 2013 offers practical suggestions for wasting less food, and having tossed some fresh fruit last week, I plan on paying attention.

Among the suggestions offered in the article are:

  • Understand expiration dates; many products build a buffer into the dates
  • Buy less, freeze what you can, freeze leftovers
  • Check the temperature of your fridge; it may not be cold enough

Here are a few recommendations of my own.

  • Reconsider your portion sizes. Are you overloading plates and throwing away what isn’t eaten?
  • Consider glass containers to store fresh fruits and veggies in the fridge. Produce seems to keep longer than in plastic containers.
  • Try tracking the food you toss, even for a single week. You may be surprised. Adjust portions, purchases, and methods of storing.

I’m not saying this is easy – especially when you have a houseful of kids and patterns of consumption are more variable, not to mention tricky to identify. But isn’t it worth that week of attention – to see what you do waste – and opt for alternatives?