We seem to have become a nation of slow learners.
We are slowly emerging from a nasty economic period during which people lost jobs, benefits, and even their homes.
Even the luckier citizens who kept their jobs may have had wages frozen or reduced through the implementation of “furlough days,” which is just a euphemism for doing the same amount of work for less pay.
And yet, despite all these warning signs, we are still wasting resources.
For example, according to data provided by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 1.3 billion tons of food one-third of the world’s total food production are lost or wasted every year. In the US, 30 percent of all food is thrown away each year.
In response to this, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have teamed up to launch the US Food Waste Challenge, the goal of which is to lead a fundamental shift in how we think about and manage food and food waste in this country.
The challenge calls on others across the food chain including producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities, and other government agencies to join the effort to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste.
According to a press release from the USDA, food waste in the US is estimated at roughly 30 to 40 percent of the food supply. In 2010, an estimated 133 billion pounds of food from US retail food stores, restaurants, and homes never made it into people’s stomachs.
The amount of uneaten food in homes and restaurants was valued at almost $390 per US consumer in 2008, more than an average month’s worth of food expenditures.
In addition to food not being utilized, it creates an environmental problem.
Food waste is the single largest type of waste entering landfills, where it “decomposes to create potent greenhouse gases,” said EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. “With the help of partners across the country, we can ensure that our nation’s food goes to our families and those in need not the landfill.”
There are numerous resources providing consumer tips for reducing food waste. Most of these sound like common sense until one remembers it is waste that is common, not sense.
The EPA offers the following suggestions for reducing food waste:
• Shop your refrigerator first! Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more.
• Plan your menu before you go shopping, and buy only those things on your menu.
• Buy only what you realistically need and will use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you are able to use the food before it spoils.
• Be creative! If safe and healthy, use the edible parts of food that you normally do not eat. For example, stale bread can be used to make croutons and beet tops can be sautèed for a delicious side dish.
• Freeze, preserve, or can surplus fruits and vegetables especially abundant seasonal produce.
• At restaurants, ask about portion sizes and order only what you can finish, or take home the leftovers and keep them for your next meal.
• At all-you-can-eat buffets, take only what you can eat.
One of my favorite tips not included on this list is to “buy funny fruit.”
At first, I thought there was a humorous type of fruit out there with which I was unfamiliar.
What it really means, though, is we should buy oddly shaped fruits and vegetables that might otherwise go to waste, as other consumers pick through the supply looking for “perfect” specimens.
Other tips include learning about freshness dating (many foods are safe to eat long after the “best by” date on the package; rotating the stock in one’s pantry or refrigerator, and, of course, donating unopened non-perishable food that one is not going to use, rather than throwing it away.
I have suggested we are a nation of slow learners. Compared to the generation who lived through the Great Depression, I believe this is true.
Those people learned some difficult lessons the hard way.
They learned not to waste resources, because they needed everything they had just to get by.
More than half a century after the Depression was over, many of these people were still living simply and within their means because of the hard lessons they learned when they were younger.
Perhaps, however, there is still hope for the rest of us.
There isn’t anything complicated about it. If we reduce food waste, we will save money, protect the environment, and save other resources.
It is not just food we are wasting. It is also the water, fuel, chemicals, and other resources it takes to produce, package, and deliver these products
If we stop wasting food, there would be more resources to devote to other important priorities, such as increasing grape production. In addition to being a good source of antioxidants, grapes can be fermented into products which may improve with age, rather than going bad, and which most of us would never consider throwing in a landfill.
Reducing food waste can have financial, environmental, and other benefits, and, if we play our cards right, we could all end up with smiles on our faces.