Let’s talk about wasting food. We all do it … no matter how much we try not to. Your mom always gave you that guilt trip about the starving children in Africa when you didn’t want to finish your green beans, and you always rolled your eyes, because who really cares? Even if you don’t care about the hungry African kids (you heartless bastard), maybe you should care a little more about the food that you waste. It’s one of the biggest problems our planet is facing right now that has a huge effect on all of us.
Every year on Earth, about 1.3 billion tons of edible food gets wasted. That’s a lot! Even worse is the amount of water that is used to grow all of that wasted food, an estimated 66,040,000,000,000,000 gallons of water annually. Yeah. Read that number again. See all those zeroes? You’re in the realm of the fabled “quadrillion” now. Over 66 quadrillion gallons of water … and people were worried about eating almonds during the California drought. One gallon per almond doesn’t sound like so much now. All that food and water being wasted also means tons of money being wasted too, about $750 billion a year worldwide. That’s a little more than what the U.S. government spends annually on defense (translation — wow that’s a crazy amount of money).
All of this waste is happening at the same time that 48 million Americans are struggling to feed themselves every day. Hearing figures like this can blow your mind a little bit.
Thinking about this level of food waste might bring you a mental picture of an evil billionaire laughing as he stomps on a cookie in front of a group of orphans or maybe Oprah swimming in a pool filled with loaves of bread just because she can. This might happen somewhere (Oprah almost definitely swims in bread), but the biggest problem is you.
When you’re shopping for produce at Publix and you pass up the spotty bananas or the weirdly shaped potatoes or the apples that aren’t quite evenly colored, you are contributing to food waste. Those foods taste the same as any others, but no one will buy them because they are “ugly.” Those ugly fruits and veggies will rot on the shelf and get tossed in a few days.
But even if you did buy the ugly produce, you often end up buying more than you can eat and rather than rotting on the shelf, it rots in your fridge instead. It’s always an unpleasant shock when you clean out your refrigerator for the first time in awhile and suddenly find all that healthy green stuff you swore you would eat but inevitably forgot about, or the leftover pizza you ordered instead of making that kale salad, now stinky and moldy.
Every single one of us is part of the problem, but there are some steps we can all take to help reduce personal food waste. The EPA has outlined a list of things that everyone should keep in mind when shopping and planning meals.
Planning out your meals is probably the most important step. At the beginning of the week, figure out what you plan to make each day and create a shopping list of only what you’ll need for those meals. Don’t wander aimlessly through the aisles and grab things on a whim if you’re not sure you’ll use it before it is expired. This means you should probably stop getting stoned before you shop (maybe).
It isn’t only up to individuals though, and some companies are beginning to realize their role in all of this. Grocery stores in Europe are on top of things already. Tesco, a huge grocery chain in the UK, is discounting what they so delightfully call “wonky veg” to encourage more people to buy more imperfect produce. They’re also donating any unsold food to charities that feed the underprivileged. In Denmark, a new store has opened that only sells food that would normally get trashed. This include mis-labeled items, bruised fruit, and anything with torn packaging. It’s all perfectly edible and heavily discounted. Sounds like a win-win.
If we can encourage stores in the U.S. to follow these examples, imagine the impact it could have on the world. Even small efforts can lead to big results.