Food waste may not be the cause of the hour, but it is getting a lot of attention these days. A Place at the Table, both a documentary and a companion book about hunger in the United States, recently debuted to critical acclaim. A recent report by a CBS station in Los Angeles created quite a stir after showing a video from last year of 13,200 boxes of Girl Scout cookies being destroyed in a Riverside, Calif., warehouse that were later transported to a landfill; the practice apparently has been going on for years. And universities throughout the country have been holding workshops about food waste, designed to remind students living in dorms that they should only take as much food as they think they will eat.
Meanwhile, at least one city in America is starting to look at the environmental impact of throwing out food. Last month, in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Staten Island will start recycling food waste this year. The idea behind the pilot program is that residents will leave food waste on the curb; it'll be picked up and taken to a city compost instead of landfills, where food waste is often buried and winds up becoming methane gas and contributing to global warming.
The statistics behind food waste are certainly eye-opening. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, based in England, recently released a report that contained a chilling statistic estimating that 30 to 50 percent of the food produced on the planet every year, about 1.2 to 2 billion tons, is thrown out before it reaches a human stomach. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in New York City, food waste costs the country $165 billion a year and takes up 25 percent of our freshwater supply to grow that food. What's really depressing is that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 in 6 Americans don't have enough to eat.
But, of course, if the other 5 out of 6 Americans ate every morsel on their plates every time they ate, arguably, the ongoing obesity epidemic would be considerably worse, so eating everything—at least at each meal—is not necessarily the answer, either. Buying smarter to reduce the amount of excess food and organizing the refrigerator and pantry better to ensure you use food by its expiration date would help.
If you're worried about food waste and wondering how to slow it down in your home, consider these five strategies from experts:
1. Go to the grocery more. "More frequent, smaller shopping trips," advises Jonathan Bloom, author of the book American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It). Bloom says we often go wrong when we impulse-shop and load up our carts until they are overflowing. If you must stock up due to distance, or simply enjoy doing it, "it's vital to plan meals, make a detailed shopping list, and stick to that list," he says.
2. Upgrade your refrigerator. This isn't imperative and certainly isn't an endorsement; call it food for thought. Some companies are addressing consumers' concerns about wasted food by offering appliances or gadgetry that may help keep foods fresher longer.
For instance, BSH (Bosch and Siemens Household Appliances), one of the world's largest manufacturers of home appliances, claims its Bosch French door refrigerator with VitaFresh technology allows fruits and vegetables to remain fresh twice as long as they would in other refrigerators by utilizing an indirect cooling system, keeping the temperature at just above freezing, and having automatic humidity control in the drawers.
If you're not looking to spend a couple thousand dollars on a new refrigerator, Ozonator LLC, a company in Las Vegas, offers a small, battery-operated device for $39.95 that can be placed in the refrigerator and will, it says, safely and effectively neutralize harmful bacteria and mold, keeping food fresh for weeks. The company claims it will save the average family $2,200 in lost produce.
3. Internalize those food storage rules. If you really want to learn to store your food properly or better, there are a number of ideas one can commit to memory or write down and tape on the refrigerator. The California Milk Advisory Board says if you have a lot of butter, it can be stored in the freezer for up to six months (versus in the refrigerator for about four months). Freezing milk, in case you're wondering, isn't a good idea; it changes its texture and appearance. You could take an entire course on storing cheese, but if you have semi-hard and hard cheeses like cheddar and Gouda in your refrigerator, they should be wrapped in butcher, craft, or waxed paper or foil.