Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Preventing food waste while feasting

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

Ready and Resilient Hamline Midway

Food! Glorious food! November is traditionally a time of feasting and thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. But it is also a time to highlight the downside: one in five children in Minnesota goes hungry every day. About 50 million Americans, or 1 in 6, live in food insecure households: they don’t know if they can afford to feed themselves on a daily basis.

Yet, one-third of the food produced globally for human consumption, about 1.3 billion metric tons, is not consumed: it is wasted. We waste enough to feed the world’s hungry. In the US, we waste about 40% of food produced for our consumption.

But how does this relate to climate change, and to our community’s resilience to climate change?
It wastes energy and increases greenhouse gas emissions. In the US, about 34 million tons, or 68 billion pounds, of food are wasted each year. Growing and transporting each ton of wasted food results is estimated to produce about 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, nearly 150 million tons per year. This waste uses about 300 million barrels of oil each year, or about 4% of the US oil use.

Reducing food waste reduces our carbon footprint.

It also wastes time and money. Think of the effort by farmers, manufacturers, transporters, grocery stores and restaurants to produce these tons of wasted food. And your effort: Americans throw away about 25% of groceries purchased, an annual cost of about $1300-$2275 for the average four-person American family.

So what can we do about it?
• Understand the “sell by” date on your food. “Sell by,” “use by” and “best by” dates are suggested time frames for best quality; the food is still safe to eat after these dates. Often these dates are created by manufacturers, and not based on research or food safety guidelines.

• Don’t buy more food than you will likely use. The bigger jar may cost less per ounce, but only if you eat all the food in the jar. The two-for-one deal only works in your favor if you eat both of the products.

• Plan your meals, buying only foods you will use in your at-home meals. Limit impulse buys. Limit unplanned restaurant meals that result in the food at your home going uneaten.

• Consider buying “ugly” (bruised) fruits and vegetables if you will be chopping or stewing it: you can save money at no cost to taste or appearance.

• When you eat out, order ala carte or smaller portion options from the menu if you know you won’t eat it all. Request a doggie bag or bring your own container so you can bring leftovers home. Then, remember to eat those leftovers before they spoil!
Once you get the food home, there are procedures you can use to prevent food waste:

• Maintain proper refrigerator temperatures; 35-38F is recommended (bacteria growth rates accelerate around 40F, and things freeze at 32F). Use the high humidity drawer for foods sensitive to moisture loss and that give off ethylene (e.g., strawberries, lettuce).

• Invest in products to lengthen food shelf life. Examples include reusable, compostable “green bags” which allow ethylene and moisture emitted by fruits and vegetables to escape and FreshPaper sheets infused with herbs that inhibit the growth of bacteria. Inserting nitrogen to push oxygen out of a sealable food container is another option.

• Join the Clean Plate Club. Use smaller plates and smaller portions to decrease the amount served, and thus the uneaten food left on a plate. (Did you know that our plate size has increased more than a third since 1960?)

• After your meal, use leftovers you won’t be eating the next day to make your own “frozen dinner.” You will appreciate the convenience of the already prepared meal!

• Compost your food waste. No matter how efficient we are, there will always be some food waste. Use the Ramsey County Organic Recycling program.

Finally, consider advocating policies and practices that discourage food waste. Some innovative practices are:
• Suggest that grocers provide smaller packages of fresh fruits and vegetables, and replace two-for-one deals with mix-and-match options.
• Encourage restaurants to offer smaller portion options.
• Update federal tax incentives to encourage businesses to donate nutritious foods; often the cost of packaging and transporting excess foods costs a business more than just throwing it away.
• Suggest legislation to discourage waste: France has banned large grocers from throwing away or destroying unsold food, requiring they donate it to charities.

As you enjoy the bounty of the Thanksgiving holiday, consider the environmental costs of food waste. Do what you can to prevent it!

The Ready & Resilient Hamline Midway project is an initiative of the Hamline Midway Environmental Group (HMEG) to build climate change resilience in our community.

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