By Zabeth Salome Chedraui
It is very possible to imagine a world in which people recycle the food that they consider as waste. Nashville has been selected by the Natural Resource Defense Council as a model city on food waste reduction. Many restaurants in the city are participating in the Food Saver Challenge, which encourages chefs to recycle food and leftovers, like carrot scraps for instance. Even though food waste is an issue that occurs throughout the entire food chain process, from farms to transportation to restaurants, it is usually associated with household waste. Indeed, almost half of the total waste occurs at the consumer level. We as consumers should start to use the leftovers from previous meals and use the extra elements that are not usually eaten from a fruit or vegetable, which is commonly known as “food waste”. It is financially beneficial for households, sustainable for agriculture, and is a helpful way to reduce climate change overall.
First of all, households can save money by deciding to prepare meals using leftovers instead of throwing them away. The statistics are staggering, about one billion tons of edible food is thrown away per year, which means that families waste normally more than $2,000 a year, or an average of $30-$40 a month that could have been used for something else. What many people are used to doing is to buy food in excess. They forget to use everything they bought and discard food passed the expiration date. The rational is that they believe in the label that says a package is “best by” a certain date, otherwise the food will go bad. Most people, around 70% of Americans, also throw away what they think is not supposed to be edible or the left over parts of certain types of food. Some examples of these “leftovers” are potato skins, fish tales or broccoli stalks that can be used to make delicious recipes.
Former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, gave the world an example in 2015, hosting a “food waste” lunch at the UN for himself and world leaders after launching the Sustainable Development Goals
Second, besides the fact that recycling food is pocket, it is also environmentally friendly. Food production requires massive quantities of water and the world water supply is under threat. About 80% of fresh water is utilized to produce food, and agriculture uses around 40% of the world’s total land according to analyst Jeffrey Sachs. A shocking fact is that the total amount of water used in food that is wasted could serve domestic needs of 9 billion people; imagine the millions of lives that could be saved simply by not wasting good food.
Ugly food, for instance apples or carrots with unusual shape, size or color, are not usually bought by people because they think they are not good. In fact, these products are usually very fresh and nutritional and in some cases even more tasteful. By choosing to buy products with these characteristics, people are also helping to reduce the amount of product that goes to waste.
A third beneficial reason for using leftovers and recycled food is because it is good for the environment and it reduces climate change. According to Jeffrey Sachs in his book “The age of Sustainable Development,” agriculture is one of the major drivers of environmental harm (24%), which is even more than the transportation industry. It generates gases that cause global warming like methane and CO2 and it uses fertilizers based on nitrogen that causes major damage to ecosystems and the environment. If people consume more of their recycled food instead of wasting it, they would need to buy less. This would reduce overall production as well. It is a complete reaction chain.
If total food waste was cut by only 15%, more than 25 million currently food insecure people a year would be able to have food and hunger would be reduced. Using less than a quarter of the food wasted would mean eliminating hunger from one billion hungry people.
Solutions to combat food waste are multifold and an effort should be made by the whole food chain, from the production side to the consumption side. Supermarkets across the country should start accepting ugly food. Something that stores and supermarkets in the USA might consider doing is to imitate the strategy of some French supermarkets which consist on giving discounts on these products so that they can be attractive to consumers, they should also donate the products that have passed their “best by” date. A very interesting campaign is the one carried out by End Food Waste, an organization that gets supermarkets like Walmart, for instance, to pledge to start selling ugly foods. There is a supermarket in the UK called Waitrose that uses the food that is not donated to create electricity through anaerobic digestion to use in their trucks.
Consumers should also do their part by being conscious about their buying habits. Americans should buy in fewer quantities and should manage the storage of their food in a better way in order to keep fresh food longer. Grace Communications Foundation, whose job is to increase awareness about the issues associated with the current industrial food system, has a useful website along with a campaign called “Taste it don’t Waste it,” which gives people ideas on how to use their leftovers and recipes. It is also important for consumers to recognize and learn that the “best by” label does not mean that the food is not good anymore.
All of these important suggestions will not change the current statistics over night, however they are certainly easy to do. What are you waiting for? The environment and your pocket will be grateful.
Zabeth is a young professional from Ecuador and M.S. candidate at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. She is passionate about development and international relations. She has experienced in marketing and has worked internationally for a multinational corporation.
Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture