Why Food Waste Is a Real Problem—And How You Can Help Fight It
You've probably seen, read, or heard the staggering statistic by now: up to 40 percent of food in America goes to waste annually. From fields that never get harvested to that forgotten crate of strawberries in the back of your fridge that ends up in the trash, this number breaks down to about 400 pounds of food per person each year.
Not only does our environment take a hit from all this discarded food, but our wallets do, too. According to Elizabeth Balkan, Food Waste Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average family of four will spend nearly $1,500 on food that they don't end of eating. "Nearly a quarter, or 21 percent, of water used by the U.S. agricultural industry is also going to grow food that will never be eaten," adds Balkan, whose team helped launch Save the Food, a national public service campaign, in 2016. "If global food waste were a country, it would have the third-highest climate footprint, behind only the U.S. and China." And despite what many of us may think, the single largest source of this food waste isn't from restaurants, grocery stores, or farms, says Balkan: "It's consumers."
That said, there are so many ways you-yes, you!-can help fight food waste right at home, from buying ugly produce, often discarded or left behind on store shelves because of their appearance, to composting (or even cooking) your food scraps. "Making relatively small changes in the way we shop, store, and cook food can save a lot of food, money, water, and energy," says Balkan. Here are a few of her simple tips and tools to make a change at home.
Plan Your Meals
One way to avoid throwing out leftovers? Don't have any! Planning out meals so you have an idea of how much of an ingredient you'll need for a recipe, or even how much food you'll be able to consume within a few days, can help you avoid tossing out leftovers that have gone on past their prime. Balkan recommends using "Meal Prep Mate," a first-of-its-kind, free digital tool that helps make meal prepping a cinch by tailoring your shopping lists and menus based on the number of people eating. Throwing a party or hosting a larger group for dinner? Try The Guest-imator.
See Food Differently
In the habit of discarding your broccoli stalks and celery leaves? Consider turning the stalks into a salad, adding the leaves when you make stock, or blending them into a pesto. Rethinking parts of certain foods you're used to discarding can not only save it from getting tossed, but also open up a whole new world of culinary possibility. "It can be fun! Challenging ourselves to tackle our own food waste means getting creative and mixing things up in the kitchen," says Balkan. "It can help pull you out of a cooking rut and bring out your inner chef!"
Use Smart Storage
Food often goes bad simply because it's not being stored properly. To help you master the science of making your ingredients last longer, the NRDC's Save the Food page has a special hub all about storage. Select any ingredient, from produce and meats to condiments and spices, and learn more about each food's optimal storage tips, how to refrigerate and freeze it, and tricks to reviving it if it's just starting to wither or wilt.