Four reasons you should care about food waste

by Kristen on April 24, 2012 · 40 comments

in Food Waste

That’s an unusually bossy start for me, isn’t it??

What can I say? Food waste is something I’m passionate about. ;)

And I think you should be too. Here’s why:

1. Wasted food = wasted money.

For a long time, I didn’t really think about this like I should have. Moldy red peppers and rotten chicken don’t exactly resemble dollar bills, but really, it’s what they are.

Food is kind of like money dressed in a different outfit, and once you can see a moldy cucumber as a dollar, you’ll be much more motivated to use it up so that you don’t have to buy another one.

2. Wasted food = wasted effort.

Someone had to plant, water, harvest, package, and ship the plant foods you throw out, and the effort required to raise animal foods is nothing to sneeze at either.

The labor would be worth if it the food was eaten, but when the food is just thrown out, the labor is wasted.

3. Wasted food = wasted planetary resources.

The food we buy and don’t eat didn’t just use human effort…it consumed an awful lot of natural resources too. Plants and animals require water, fertilizer, and food, and the packaging/shipping end of things uses oil and paper, among other things, and produces pollution.

Again, all that isn’t so bad if the food is actually eaten, but when we buy the food and don’t eat it, we’ve used resources for nothing.

4. Wasted food = methane gas

The food that we send to landfills doesn’t compost and turn into lovely dirt. That’s because landfills don’t provide air or light. And when food rots without sufficient oxygen, as it does in a landfill, methane gas is produced.

If all of that doesn’t motivate you, consider that people in many parts of the world would give anything to have access to food like we do. Wasting pound after pound of food is just ridiculous when there are starving people in the world (maybe if we wasted less, we’d have money to donate to organizations that help provide food and water to people in need.)

What You Can Do

If you’re routinely filling your trash can with food and you’re feeling discouraged by it, take heart! I used to throw away tons of food (check out how much I wasted even after I started working on my food waste), and I’ve now got my food waste pared down to a reasonable amount.

Change is possible, dear readers.

Now, simply eating more food is obviously not the solution to the food waste problem…instead, you want to use your food more wisely so that you can buy less food than you currently do.

For help with that, read my Top 10 Ways to Reduce Food Waste post to learn about the techniques I used to turn myself into a lean, mean, low-waste machine.

And of course, participating in Food Waste Friday might also help…the public accountability embarrassment is super motivating, let me tell you!

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Fellow food-waste-fighters, what one habit/activity has been most effective in helping you reduce your food waste?

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Today’s 365 post: Happiness is…

Joshua’s 365 post: Reptile Time! (wherein Joshua makes up for some 365 slacking)

Leave a Comment

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 lisa April 24, 2012 at 7:27 am

Kristen
Several years ago, I really got into the amount of waste (and not just food) my family was producing. I have actually researched trying to compost in the winter months here in MN, and have slowly started doing that. I do get quite a kick out of only putting out our trash maybe once a month…especially during the summer months. It is amazing when you look into it and make a conscience effort, how little waste one can produce, food and other stuff. Thanks for some great blogging and have a great Tuesday!

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2 WilliamB April 24, 2012 at 11:11 am

Lisa, if you’re doing lazy composting, the good news is that’s as easy to do in the winter as in the summer: toss the waste in the pile, add browns as necessary. It’ll decompose as it warms up in the spring.

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3 Robin April 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I totally identify with your comment, Lisa, because I live in Wisconsin! As an experiment during the really cold winter of 2010/2011, my husband and I decided to just keep on throwing our kitchen waste into the compost bin throughout the winter. We have a pretty big bin, but it was almost full by early March. Even after a bitterly cold winter, the compost “woke up” sometime in March and started consuming everything we’d been throwing in there. The 2011/2012 winter wasn’t as cold, but I was still amazed by how quickly the contents of the bin shrank after the pile defrosted in late February/early March. We don’t put any additives in ours, just all our non-meat kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and (sometimes) leaves, and we’ve gotten beautiful rich compost out of it for our garden.

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4 lisa April 25, 2012 at 7:28 am

This is for William B and Robin. Thanks for the advice. I did do a little ‘lazy’ or ‘winter’ composting this winter to see how it would work, and was nicely surprised as Robin said about how quick it goes down in the spring. We compost everything except meat, but is constantly amazed how quickly it decomposes! In the fall instead of putting stuff in the compost bin, I layer the garden with leaves, grass clippings and pumpkin squash rinds, etc then slightly till it. Come spring, my son has so many worms to play with, he’s in little no heaven!

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5 Rachel Parker April 24, 2012 at 7:31 am

This is actually a great way to re-frame food waste for those of us who respond with an “oh well!” when something actually does stay in the fridge for a bit too long. I think a big part of it is that we often think we need more than we actually do, and that can be seen in parts of our lives that have nothing to do with food.

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6 Mindy @ debtfreeby26 April 24, 2012 at 7:39 am

For me, planning our meals has helped a lot. I don’t just go to the grocery store and buy whatever looks good- but then bring it home and realize I’ll need more ingredients, not be able to use it up in time, etc…
Also, having my own garden helps because I see all the hard work I put into growing my veggies and I don’t want them to go to waste.
My problem is- what do you do with company that comes over and wastes your food? I’m talking like taking a whole bowl of soup, then they can’t eat but half of it, and they want to throw the rest away…I haven’t found a good solution for this but it drives me insane!

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7 Virginia Dare April 25, 2012 at 9:19 am

Have you tried serving the plates in the kitchen, and then bringing them to the table?
I have what’s probably the converse problem but a similar result: family members who will eat whatever you put on their plate, regardless of whether they want (or need) that much food. Sometimes that means a recipe that was supposed to be 6 servings ends up only 4. :-P So, I fill the plates in the kitchen and when we get to the table I say something like, “There’s more chili and more green beans, if anyone wants more.” Usually, they do not get any more. But if I were to put the pots/ serving bowls on the table, they would eat and eat and eat and eat!

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8 Mindy @ debtfreeby26 April 25, 2012 at 10:09 am

Just to be clear, you are saying that you serve their food, instead of letting them get their own? I will give that a try – it seems to be my sister that is the worst at this, I keep thinking she should be old enough to know better (19) and I’m sure my Dad doesn’t allow her to do that at his house…

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9 Valeri April 24, 2012 at 8:03 am

One of the biggest ways I have started to limit waste in my family is to teach my daughter how important it is to be aware of what she throws out. She was just scribble on a piece of paper and then say it was unusable, now she will just tear that spot off or use white out and keep going. I also put dates on everything that goes into my refrigerator, that way if the end date is coming close I can go ahead and use that item up. I have gotten to the point I hardly throw out any food anymore.

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10 {Adventuresindinner} April 24, 2012 at 8:57 am

So, so true! We (and our kids) need to realize that we don’t have an infinite amount of resources and we need to savour what we’ve got. Have extra? Help someone else out in need.

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11 Katy @ Purposely Frugal April 24, 2012 at 9:09 am

For # 2 – Wasted Effort, it’s also a wasted effort for us, the cooks. It’s a time waster to cook up a bunch of food when half of it just gets tossed out.

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12 Virginia Dare April 25, 2012 at 9:20 am

I cannot stand that! LOL

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13 Geneva April 24, 2012 at 9:45 am

The best way I have been able to cut back on food waste is to marry a man who will eat anything. Leftovers don’t stand a chance in our house.

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14 Renee CA April 24, 2012 at 10:23 am

I have one of those! (he is very motivated by the food=money concept).

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15 katie April 24, 2012 at 10:11 am

one of my goals this summer, on top of being more mindful of my own food buying habits, is learning different food preservation techniques. right now i’m working on canning and pickling. i’m learning to pickle and can a rather wide range of produce. i’ve already salvaged several pounds (!) of produce over the past few weeks- which means i have to buy less.

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16 Holly @ My Plant-Based Family April 24, 2012 at 10:17 am

This is a great post! I’m gonna share it on facebook today. I always participate in Food Waste Friday, this week while visiting my dad he told me he always reads my blog then he said, “I even read the frugal girl”! I started laughing because I just couldn’t imagine my dad reading it. He enjoys it too!
So thanks for a great post and a great blog!

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17 Lori April 24, 2012 at 10:18 am

So for the last month, every week I think I should start posting my food waste, and then realize I have too much waste that week.

This week I felt like I didn’t buy nearly enough food–we had a lower-than-normal weekly food budget–but I actually think it was a perfect amount. I have a tendency to overestimate how much food we need and will eat–especially for produce.

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18 Jennifer Y. April 24, 2012 at 11:26 am

I too tend to overestimate. In addition to planning a menu and corresponding grocery list, I have figured out the appropriate quantity of food (particularly produce) to purchase for my household by cooking consistently. One pound of string beans translates into a side dish for two meals. One head of romaine lettuce, one pint of grape tomatoes and two large cucumbers yields a side salad (the way we like it) for three meals.

Understanding this has helped us waste a lot less food.

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19 WilliamB April 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I usually fail on estimating produce consumption. My solution is to buy less and be willing to make a supplemental trip for produce.

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20 Wendi April 24, 2012 at 11:22 am

One of the best ways I found to reduce the amount of food waste is to plan meals for the week. Then you only buy what you need and if there are leftover vegetables or other items you can work them into the menu for the coming week.

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21 Kitchen Canny April 24, 2012 at 11:30 am

Great post Kristen – it is often easy to throw away scraps of food before thinking of the consequences and you’re right that there are so many other things to consider than just money. All the labour that goes into it, the people that would give anything to have it, the methane gas that is produced if it is sent to landfill – hopefully people will think of these things before chucking out their food so readily!

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22 Jo@simplybeingmum April 24, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Meal plan – that’s how I keep my waste to a minimum and also I have a very specific routine that is designed to keep my cost down and reduce any potential waste!
Thanks again for the original inspiration of Food Waste Friday – twas ingenious!

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23 Sharon April 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm

“What one habit/activity has been most effective in helping you reduce your food waste?”

Reading your blog posts about food waste. I never really thought much about it before but now, I’m very conscious of it every time I throw something out. I still have too much food waste but it is very slowly getting better. Thanks!

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24 Jessie@Jessie:Improved April 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm

The best thing? Participating in Food Waste Friday of course! I’ve come a long way since then. Also, my “Eat Me” bin in the fridge has been helpful for those small items that often get lost in the back.

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25 Lea April 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I keep a shelf in the fridge devoted to leftovers. When I’m looking for something to eat (or pack in someone’s lunch), that’s the area I look at first. This method keeps all the prepared (and therefore quicker to spoil) items in one area so food doesn’t get “lost” in the fridge.

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26 David Liddle April 27, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Great idea! I’m going to try that.

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27 Juli April 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I think it is always good to never take for granted the blessings we have, and by not wasting, we actually consume less, leaving more for the rest of the world. :)

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28 Renee CA April 24, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Reading Jonathan Bloom’s book American Wasteland was very motivating for me.

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29 Stephanie April 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm

I menu plan and started leaving Friday nights as a “Eat all small left overs night”. This has helped a huge amount in reducing waste.

When I do waste meat products I tell myself I was part of the process to slaughter an innocent animal and that was done for nothing as I did not consume it – and that in my mind is unacceptable.

And as for other food items I remind myself many people in developing countries are hungry and yet their food supplies are sent to developed countries like mine where we are overfed and just toss it away not thinking who it could have really fed in the place of origin… or who the worker was and what conditions they worked with for my disregard. These thought motivate me to be a better person when it comes to food wastage.

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30 Melody, Countrified Hicks blog April 24, 2012 at 5:36 pm

This was a great post. I try hard not to waste food either. You have some great suggestions. I rarely have food that ends up going bad before it is consumed but when we do, we just feed it to our pigs so it is never wasted.

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31 Jamie April 24, 2012 at 6:33 pm

The best plan I’ve come up with so far that seems to waste the least amount of food is this: At the beginning of the week I plan 3 meals. From those three meals spaced out through the week we plan the other meals as “left-over” nights. I haven’t found any other plan yet that works as well as this one yet, although always still looking :)

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32 Heather :) :) :) April 24, 2012 at 7:07 pm

What really got to me is the “waste food = wasted money” So true…my father and I make a conscious effort not to make too much food now, because we really want to eat up everything we have. So we make a little bit less, we eat more of it…and if we’re still hungry we grab a fruit or a veggie to snack on :) Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather ;)

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33 Karen April 24, 2012 at 7:22 pm

I would love to learn more about your compost pile–you know, for the bits of food that do actually do go bad. I have a read a little bit about composting, but I feel a little intimidated. It would be nice to see what a real person does with their food waste :)

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34 lisa April 25, 2012 at 7:37 am

Karen
Composting is very easy, and frugal depending on how you want to do it. You can do it yourself with a 5gal bucket, a barrel, plastic bin, an old kiddies pool or whatever container you have (my dad had one just in the back corner of our yard-no container). Make sure it has holes (so when it rains it doesn’t fill up) and a lid is nice but not necessary. When I started I thru in some dirt with worms, then started throwing everything in. You want to stay about from any meat or grease/oil…the worms definitely do not like this. mix it around–I use a pitch fork or hoe. I stir it up about every 2 weeks and when I add more waste, I usually throw in some water to. For composting, worms are like us…they like food, water and oxygen(hence the mixing). I have put almost a whole summer worth of grass clippings in our compost ‘ball’ and it is just amazing how quickly it decomposes. Good luck!

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35 Donita April 24, 2012 at 7:37 pm

You are so right, and so what if you’re a bit bossy. Some of us need to be bossed a bit. I do try, but I’m not very organised. My problem is I want a lot of variety especially with veg, and as I’m buying for one, only once a week on-line, sometimes the pre-packed stuff is just too big. (I do buy loose when I can.) they don’t have proper farmers markets locally to me – just farm shops which are overpriced variations on a supermarket with all the same imported goods, and a few local things thrown in. I’ts not cheaper, and often you have to buy a lot, like 4 or 5 ears of corn at a time. I don’t really like veg much, but I try to jazz it up a bit with dressings and sauces, but often just can’t face the same thing twice. (like you with fish!) Some weeks are ok with only one or two things out, others are not ok and last week I had A LOT of veg waste. For instance I bought 4 onions that week, and by the end of the week 3 were rotten. (Now I dont’ think that was down to me – onions should last weeks in the fridge.) All my carrots and beans also went mouldy thhis week probably because I hung on to some carrots from 2 weeks ago and their mould spread. On the positive side my frozen peas and edamame beans are still fine. I had some last night with lemon and mint butter sauce and a piece of (ex-frozen) salmon. If only freezing worked for everything.

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36 S April 24, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Amen! Thank you for that beautiful post. I think in this country we are way to careless about wasting food and other resources and it just breaks my heart.

I generally plan meals to have leftovers for lunches/breakfasts the next day. Luckily my family will eat just about anything. They’re usually good to east something twice. The third time, though, is where they draw the line. When I start to get a buildup of leftovers, I start to tell people if they’re hungry they can choose one of those first.

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37 Hilary (Mod Apron) April 25, 2012 at 12:38 am

Obv meal planning helps to curb our food waste. Also, getting over myself and just using up what I’ve got already in the fridge rather than eating something else that seems more appetizing at that moment. That helps too. But probably the biggest way I avoid food waste is actually cooking less food – it’s so easy to make way too much, especially because I tend to be hungry when I’m cooking and my eyes are bigger than my stomach. So judging portion sizes with an eye to staying realistic in terms of what we will actually eat/need makes a big difference.

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38 Virginia Dare April 25, 2012 at 9:35 am

Thank you for including the note that wasted food = wasted resources, including the impact of commercial food production. Also, food waste is the second-largest component of our trash stream, and in most communities it can’t be composted/recycled unless you do it yourself.

Many folks have probably heard that the USDA estimates that approximately 40% of the edible food grown in and imported into the US is wasted at some point along the supply chain. This includes itmes damaged during shipping to things forgotten at the back of our fridges and everything in between. Your consumer and waste management choices do have an impact on the larger system because it is supply and demand.

EPA page about food waste http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/organics/food/fd-basic.htm

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39 Melody, Countrified Hicks blogger April 25, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Another thing we do is we have the same meals each week. I made a list of all our usuals that everyone liked and narrowed down the list to everyone’s top picks. Since we have the same meals that everyone enjoys, we have less waste also. Makes grocery shopping a lot easier too. One other benefit, since I make the items from scratch, and do not use processed foods, my husband has been able to cut down on his insulin usage!

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40 David Liddle April 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Someone mentioned that when they waste meat they think of the innocent animal that was killed to provide that meat, I watched a movie recently called “Food Inc.” I GUARANTEE that if you watch that movie – it is available at the Library – there will be a lot less innocent animals being killed!! I cut beef out of my diet almost completely after watching this! Chicken, I am sure to buy only organically, humanely raised chickens now. You will not believe how the animals that we eat , especially cows and chickens, are treated. I am still having nightmares!

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