April 16, 2014

Are You a Member of the Clean Plate Club?

Patti Truant

Patti Truant

CLF-Lerner Fellow

Center for a Livable Future

Household food trash

Household food trash

This is the second in a series about food waste.

Recently, I started working on a new CLF project to better understand food waste in America, and I’m finding it impossible to learn about this topic without taking an introspective look at my own disposal of food.

With up to 40 percent of our food going to waste (a large chunk of that at the consumer level), producing food that eventually gets discarded presents a huge strain on our natural resources, energy use and our individual pocketbooks.

Everyone throws away food sometimes, or as the experts would call it, engage in “avoidable food loss.”  But it got me wondering—how much food do I waste compared to the typical American?  And what can I do to be a more efficient eater?

I’ve always been averse to waste on some level—due in no small part to the influence of my grandmother, who emigrated from Italy as a child during the Depression Era and who never lost her desire to use everything to its fullest—even a moldy piece of cheese she would dutifully cut through to reach the untouched center.  Luckily, I don’t have to do this in my house because the cheese is usually never around long enough to get moldy.  Despite this, I know that of course I could do better.

I love having fresh fruit and veggies around the house, but the downside is that your produce can turn to compost before you are ready.  As a CSA member in previous growing seasons, I found that I needed to be very diligent in using up the bounty, especially during the summer when weekend trips can limit home cooking.

I started taking a mental inventory of what I would send to the compost bin or the garbage disposal, and why.  There were those mandarins that went bad before I could get through the whole bag, and that Chinese takeout left in the fridge a few days too long to be appetizing.

While my increased awareness has also led to more guilt when I throw away food, the additional attention has caused me to make some changes to cut down on unnecessary waste. So what are some things you can do, especially if you are not keen on reducing waste by eating fish heads?

Here are some relatively easy, non-Earth shattering things you can do to cut back on your own, and become a member of the adult version of the “Clean Plate Club.”  Side benefits include saving you some hard-earned cash:

  • Check your cupboards and refrigerator to get an inventory of what you already have before you go grocery shopping.
  • Figure out what quantities of ingredients you need for recipes so you don’t overbuy.
  • Find recipes to help you turn random ingredients or leftovers into delicious new meals.   A few ideas here and here.
  • Eat leftovers or produce with a limited shelf life first instead of pasta or longer lasting frozen foods.
  • Freeze fish and meats you won’t use right away.
  • Cook meals in bulk and freeze individual portions for quick and ready to eat meals on a busy day.

The good news is that more people are now paying attention to the issue of food waste.  The USDA recently issued data quantifying food loss among various food types, and the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization discussed impacts on natural resources in a 2013 report.   If you want to learn more about the environmental and economic tolls of food waste, you can also check out the Natural Resources Defense Council’s report  or the U.K’s consumer friendly Love Food, Hate Waste campaign.

The Really Radical R: Reduce – by Christine Grillo
Can Composting Become Default Behavior? – by Ruthie Burrows
Are You a Member of the Clean Plate Club – by Patti Truant
Fighting Food Waste—with Gleaning and Facebook – by Kathryn Rees

Photo: wikicommons, by petr, 2008.

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