I think everyone has a memory of one of their relatives glaring at them and telling them to clean their plate. My grandpa on my mom’s side was the card carrying member of the clean plate society in our family. He would eye your plate with his somewhat milky eyes and look at you in astonishment and declare, “A starving child from (fill in the blank, but it was mostly from a place in Africa) would kill you for that!” I would roll my eyes and oblige him, till he turned his back and then give it to the dog. Mission accomplished, plate cleaned.
Many years later, I finally realize what he was talking about. I’m not talking about the concept of cleaning your plate, that’s not hard to understand. No, I’m talking about the issue of food waste in the world. I know, it’s a dirty subject but the amount of food wasted globally in a year is more than enough to feed 1 billion hungry people. Let me repeat that…..1 billion people. That’s one thousand million hungry people, fed with what we waste a year.
Cart’m Recycling (Our local recycling and garbage center) did a waste audit a few years ago. They bravely sorted through 7,000 pounds of our local garbage to see what everybody throws away in our community. Food was the most abundant “single source of waste” by a landslide, right here in our little community. That is more food in our garbage than anything else, even plastic.
It seems we aren’t alone though as the average food waste for the United States, (the biggest offender in food waste in the world) is 35% to 40% of our food supply. Another astounding number! To break that down, the average American family of four tosses over 1,160 pounds of food a year — from scraps, spills and spoilage. That’s 1.2 million calories—enough to provide a starving child with a lot of food for a long time. Grandpa was right.
One may ask, “How is throwing out food all that bad? I mean doesn’t it decompose at the dump?” It turns out that landfills full of decomposing food release large amounts of methane gas, which is said to be 20 times more lethal of a greenhouse gas that carbon dioxide. And America’s landfills are full of rotting food, and therefore the single largest producer of methane emissions in the U.S. This is a major contributor to global climate change and reduction of our ozone layer.
Now that I’ve given you the bad news, let’s have some good news. We as individuals can implement small changes that make a big difference in the amount of food we throw away each year. Through a little effort and planning you too can make a big difference.
Of course, reducing food waste starts at home. Shop smart and try not to buy impulse buys as those are the most likely to land in the trash. Implement the “P” word, ya know planning, and make lists before you go shopping to get just what you need. For example, the food waste in most of Europe is low in comparison to the U.S. and U.K because they buy only the foods they need for the meal they are cooking that day. Try to buy only what you need, which is a novel idea here in America.
Another way to help reduce your families food waste is to monitor what ends up in the trash for a few weeks and then make a plan to plug that leak. If you find out you consistently let your salad greens go bad before you use them, buy less or get making more salads. It is also a good idea to go through your pantry and figure out what foods are going to expire soon and plan some meals around those. Use the same tool on your fridge and go through it once a week and discover the foods that are lurking in the back and create a meal around using them up. With the internet at our fingers, it’s easy to put in what ingredients you have and voila! A bunch of recipe ideas will turn up to stimulate your creativity.
I have found the very best way to reduce food waste is…. drum roll…. to compost. We have been composting for years and it really doesn’t take that much effort, particularly living here at the coast. We have a 5 gallon bucket, yes we do, in the kitchen and we fill it on a regular basis. Hunky hubby drags it back to our compost pile and dumps it, throws some mulch on it like twigs and grass clippings, then walks away. In time, it all breaks down and we have rich rewarding compost to spread around the place.
If you do not have a lot of space, it is still easy to compost with a little more planning. There are some pretty creative compost bins you can purchase or make that don’t take us that much space. There is lots of great information about composting on line but don’t let it overwhelm you, it isn’t rocket science and it is a great way to turn your waste to wanted rich dirt. (Particularly with our sandy soil!) Pick out a simple solution and go for it. It is so rewarding.
The important point in all of this is to do something about our food waste. It is a big dirty secret that needs our intentions and attention to change. In our abundant country it is easy to overlook this issue and turn the other way. I know Grandpa and all our ancestors would appreciate our effort now to care for our earth for generations to come by cleaning our food waste up.