The problem of food waste and how you can stop it
Food production, worldwide, is the single biggest cause of deforestation, water extraction, habitat loss and biodiversity loss and yet we end up wasting an estimate of one pound per person per day in some countries. Wastage of food is not only indicative of hunger, climate change or pollution, but also of many other economic pitfalls such as inflation.
First, let’s look at some horrifying statistics on food waste:
One third of all the food produced is thrown away
The annual cost of food waste amounts to 1 trillion dollars
Food waste contributes to 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emission into the atmosphere per year
28 percent of the world's agricultural area is used to produce food that ends up being wasted
Over 800 million people worldwide are starving
So what’s wrong with sending food waste to the landfill?
In a landfill, food waste is compacted, anaerobic bacteria break it down and produce methane gas as a byproduct which is released into the atmosphere. Methane is 25 times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
South Korea set up a revolutionary system that weighs people’s food waste and sends them a bill at the end of the month for its disposal. Set up in 2013, the system has almost eliminated all landfill-bound food waste. But food waste, unlike all other environmental problems, is an edible one.
What can you do on an individual level?
Conduct a food waste audit The first step to fixing any problem is to understand it. At the end of each day, make a note of what food is making its way to the bin and why. I discovered that leftovers were not treated well in our household and we don’t like to eat the same thing twice in a row. So I stopped meal prepping and prepped ingredients instead. I also noticed that there was always a sad and lonely head of lettuce at the back of the fridge. Only a few leaves were consumed, while the rest was left to rot before another occasion of use could come to rescue.
Buy less food more frequently We often end up buying more than we need because supermarkets are designed for exactly that. It helps to make a list of food you think you will need and buy lesser quantities of each of those. Shopping for less food will ensure you enjoy fresher food which tastes better and you are likely to waste less of it. If a grocery haul each week is not possible, consider subscribing to a produce box service.
Allocate time for proper storage after you shop Most food deteriorates and is ultimately wasted because we end up just shoving the grocery bag in the fridge. Each fruit and vegetable has different storage requirements. Once you get home, spend some time to store them properly. Maybe even assign that task to another family member if you feel it’s too much to do for one person. Store leafy greens in a jar of water, store potatoes, onions, garlic and tomatoes outside the fridge, store mushrooms in a paper bag.
Re-evaluate what you consider trash Next time you want to cook, have a peek inside the fridge and see what you can make with things you consider waste. Save roots, stalks, leaves, ends, and peels from vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin, spring onions, capsicum, bell peppers, eggplant through the week, add mushrooms and cheese rind to make a nutritious and flavourful stock. Turn potato peels to chips/fries. Crisp leftover bread and use it to top pastas or grilled vegetables. Make pesto with carrot greens. Use beetroot leaves to add texture to your salads. Turn citrus peels to candies. Use leftover stir fried/sauteed veg to make stuffed flatbreads or patties, make frittata from leftover pasta, add leftover rice to soups or make arancini, make sandwiches or tacos with leftover meat.
Stop picking recipes at random The internet is a wonderful rabbit hole of recipes. Picking a recipe purely based on the temptation of trying something new often requires you go out and shop for a bunch of ingredients. You will use maybe a few teaspoons of these ingredients and then leave them to die a slow death in the dark corners of your pantry. Instead of browsing through recipes based on cuisines or meal types, try to find recipes by typing the ingredients you have. Download apps that suggest recipes based on your list or pick more than 5 recipes with the same ingredients more or less and then shop.
Learn to cook without a recipe Always following recipes leaves our refrigerators overflowing with little bits of ingredients we couldn’t use. Freestyle cooking (my favourite way) is possible, easy and delicious. Such recipes are endlessly versatile. Check out how instagramable they are too. For the next 10 recipes that you follow, focus on technique rather than the exact steps, like this recipe here. Then recreate the same recipes without shopping and using whatever you have in the fridge.
Prolong the life of produce The life of produce can be extended beyond season by freezing, pickling and fermenting. Pickling and fermenting at home not only saves your pennies but also has benefits that stretch beyond food preservation. It’s great for your gut health, is easy to do and serves as a backup when you have no fresh veggies in the fridge. Having kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha or sourdough in your fridge also ensures you don’t reach for packaged noodles when hunger and laziness decide to strike at the same time.
Share or donate extra food We all love that neighbor who shows up with an occasional pie or casserole. Be that neighbor. You don’t always have to bake a pie; a bowl of stew, pasta or curry is equally appreciated. And if this is not your cup of tea, find an organization working towards diverting food waste. There are apps you can download that will collect your food and ensure it reaches hungry people in your area.
Grow your own food, whatever you can, every little bit counts Access to cheap and plentiful food has made us lose our connection with nature. Growing your own, even if it is just herbs, will help you understand how much effort goes into producing food. The more we understand it, the more we give food the respect it rightfully deserves and the less we waste it. Plant a few herbs or a fruit tree, teach your kids to take care of it, visit a farm, find out if there is a farming service in your area or allotments where you can plant a veggie garden.
Start composting Home composting can potentially divert up to 150 kg of food waste per household per year from going to the landfill. If you’ve never attempted it before, find an easy guide to composting, here. Use the compost to grow more delicious food. If you live in a small apartment and don’t have space, ask a few neighbors and set up a community compost, all you need is a large bin. Or maximise the power of sharing economy, find a composting service in your area.
Climate crisis is a pressing subject demanding immediate attention. Not taking responsibility of our predicament will determine the fate of all our futures. Reducing waste is an accessible and culturally acceptable way we can reduce our impact on the planet.
Every little bit counts, do what you can.