With Thanksgiving only three dwindling days away, and Thanksgiving dinner shopping on the agenda tonight, I need to roll up my sleeves and get tough with my refrigerator: cleaning, tidying, and delving deep within its dark, hidden recesses to purge the forgotten and the fuzzy. I know they’re in there–the long-expired yogurt, the wilted and possibly slimy Swiss chard, the container of mystery leftovers from who knows when–and this is precisely why I procrastinate. If I pretend these once perfectly good foods (now destined for the drain, compost bin, or garbage can) aren’t in there for a little while longer, I can put off my impending guilt trip for that much longer too.
I hate wasting food. Especially when the food wasted was once a living creature. Or something I grew myself. Or something that would have been hugely appreciated at the food bank where I’ve been volunteering this past month.
And especially when I’m the culprit.
Thanks in part to a super-abundance of cheap food and our obsession with superficial perfection, food waste is rampant in the U.S.: indeed, an estimated 40 percent of the food we produce in this country winds up trashed, not eaten. So what’s the big deal? Well, for starters, it’s morally callous to waste this much food when so many people around the world don’t have enough to eat, says Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) (2011). If we reduced food waste, he maintains, we could feed the world’s hungry. What’s more, wasting food wastes money, not to mention the tremendous amounts of natural resources, especially oil and water, expended to grow that wasted food. Finally, when organic food waste winds up buried in landfills it releases methane, the most potent of greenhouse gases. As Bloom noted when I interviewed him for an Urban Farm article on food waste a few years ago, “We’re promoting climate change from our trash bins.”
If, like me, you’d like to mend your wasteful food ways, Thanksgiving–with its emphasis on being thankful for our food, yet glut of oft-wasted leftovers–is a good time to start. Here are some strategies I implemented after writing the story mentioned above:
1. Shop smarter and smaller. Plan meals, keep a detailed shopping list, and avoid buying mass quantities of food. I also try to keep my fridge on a diet, so items don’t get shoved into the Twilight Zone at the back.
2. Store food properly. Check out http://stilltasty.com/ for food storage recommendations. Keep your fridge and cupboards well-organized, with leftovers and staples visible at the front rather than hidden.
3. Use it, preserve it, or lose it. Regularly inventory your perishables so you can either use them or preserve them (i.e. by canning or freezing) before they spoil. For instance, I try to make up an easy, quick stir fry each week to use up veggies before they die a tragic and slimy death.
4. Don’t freak about sell-by dates. Bloom says these dates are for retailers so they know when to remove items from their shelves, and more about taste or texture rather than food safety. Still Tasty offers guidance about when to toss foods as well.
How do you avoid wasting food?
Time to start fridge-cleaning–and Happy Thanksgiving!
PS. To learn more about the issue of food waste, check out Bloom’s site, http://www.wastedfood.com/