Didn’t Your Mother Tell You to Clean Your Plate (and Your Refrigerator)?

Food: Don't Waste It. Photo by "Lilszeto"

The blogosphere is showing recent interest in curbing our food waste. A Grist story suggests the average American family of four throws out an estimated $130-$175 per month in spoiled and discarded food. Money, as they point out, that’s going into the garbage or compost bin rather than paying off credit cards. Much of this food is tossed because it is: past its due date (quite often a false construct), not as fresh as it once was, too much to consume, or has actually been allowed to spoil.

The implications of all this food waste are not just felt in our collective pocketbooks. A recent study in the United Kingdom calculated that embedded water in food waste within the country accounted for one and a half times the volume of water that people actually used in their homes. The implications of our laziness are rather stunning: These foods end up in landfills where they produce untold amounts of potent methane, a gas 23 times more effective in trapping heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. (Note that landfills account for 34% of our total methane emissions.) We are also unnecessarily depleting soils and applying tons of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides for foods that are never eaten. It is estimated that fully one quarter of U.S. water consumption is used to produce this wasted food. And, finally, the energy required to produce this food is on the order of 300 million barrels of oil. This is—now hold your hats—more than is extracted annually from the oil and gas reserves off our shores, more than could be gained from many popular energy-efficiency strategies, and more than we might produce as ethanol biofuels derived from grains.

We are utterly failing to close the loop, and going to war to defend it. It seems the “freeganism” movement is on to something. The adherents to this doctrine share “an anti-consumeristic ethic about eating”, and instead live on food cast off by others, often by dumpster diving in the waste bins of food retailers, gleaning from farm fields, foraging in the wilds and in urban gardens, and sharing food (what a civil concept). If you’re not into dumpster diving, there are lots of other ways you can reduce your food waste, including making a shopping list, buying only what you need, using up what’s in the fridge and the pantry (with lots of creative recipes available to use up wilting vegetables), and serving smaller amounts. There’s also a new projectHalfsies—that gives restaurant diners the option of eating half a portion—thus creating less waste and less midriff fat—and donating a portion of the plate’s cost to charity. Whether this would actually help reduce hunger in India is questionable, but it certainly raises awareness about food waste, the obesity epidemic and hunger around the globe. Take home message: Don’t just buy your vegetables, eat them! The planet and your body will thank you.

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