Food Waste's Culprits Along With Some Steps to Reframe Food Shopping, Storing, and Cooking
It is bizarre that food waste is mentioned to disgruntled children who don’t want to eat dinner. I remember all the stories about the less fortunate children who live in some distant country and how they would gobble up all the food that we were not keen on eating. But, at some point, this narrative stops being prominent when we take charge of our own meal prep and purchase. Yet, food waste permeates through the production of food, consumers storing it, and even after it is cooked.
Food waste is not always a conscious choice by consumers. Oftentimes, it stems from choices in what grocery stores do with plants and how they satisfy our meat-heavy culture through factory farming. We’re not off the hook, unfortunately, because food waste can also be caused by our reliance on aesthetics when purchasing produce. Last but not least, it manifests in the way we approach cooking or preparing the food for consumption.
Do you waste food?
What is Food Waste and How Does it Happen?
According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, a third of all food is either lost or tossed aside yearly and worldwide (Kunde). Sharon Kunde underlines the wasteful process through which food gets to be on our dinner tables. She begins on this path when she and her family try to reduce their carbon footprint. After living overseas and then relocating to the United States, she shares her recognition of consumerism and its role in food within the West. Her article noted people’s tendency to rely on aesthetics while purchasing food. This made me think of all the times I put down an apple because it was bruised. The effects of such an attitude already strike through many grocery stores. Kunde explains, “In April, for instance, a report from the Center for Biological Diversity and the “Ugly” Fruit and Vegetable Campaign issued a report about grocery stores. It made many sensible recommendations, including marketing edible but unattractive produce."
How Well Are Grocery Stores Doing?
How would you grade your own food waste management?
Who's to Blame?
The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization docks the percentage of food waste between grocery stores (11%) and consumers (40%) (Kunde). Even then, most popular grocery stores did not score very high on the food waste efficiency test that was tracked by the Biological Diversity Program. If you want to check out more about grocery stores around the US and their performance in terms of food waste, take a look at this graphic I found on the Biological Diversity Program’s website. The website’s authors noted that only 4 out of the 10 companies mentioned on the list had initiatives to encourage purchasing of imperfect produce.
Do you see your favorite grocery store on the list? How'd they do?
Food Waste from the Perspective of Grocery Stores
Store policies perpetuate food waste. Menaka Wilhelm examines the limited flexibility of store-to-farm transactions. She writes, "In the U.S., grocers can cancel a produce order from a farm or a supplier whenever they want, for whatever reason, and there's no recourse. Whole crop purchasing is a commitment to work with the supplier to send food somewhere." This ability to withdraw or toss aside portions of what they once agreed to sell. Wilhelm compares this policy to that of UK grocery stores (and Whole Foods). In said stores, the sellers work with farm workers to find other uses for unsold produce. “In some cases, the crops might be composted or fed to animals, but that's still more preferable than actually just leaving it to rot in a landfill or the field” (Wilhelm). The author also mentions that Whole Foods does this repurposing of foods by using the food in the meals they sell. Perhaps consumers can take a page from Whole Foods’ book and find ways to use food that otherwise may be wasted.
Food Waste from the Point of View of Farmers
Susan Goldenberg’s “Half of All US Food Produce is Thrown Away, Research Shows” article does not just have a shocking title. It features the perspective of farmers in the United States and their frustrations with this aesthetic-heavy approach to produce. One of the farmers she includes is Jay Johnson, and he says, “What happens in our business today is that it is either perfect, or it gets rejected. It is perfect to them, or they turn it down. And then you are stuck.” In a way, the quotes Goldenberg includes within her article communicate devastating loss for farmers. You're probably wondering how we can help.
Suggestions for Reducing Food Waste
Allison Aubrey explored some options to reduce our food waste. One of them, she says, is about having clearer expiry dates on produce. Aubrey uses her article as an opportunity to connect different advocates for reducing food waste in one place. For example, she mentions Eric Kessler, who is the head of Arabella Advisor’ food practice, which acts as a consultant for investors and those interested in improving the food sector. Kessler brings in great suggestions. He lists reusing unwanted produce in breweries or in animal feeds. Furthermore, Allison Aubrey’s work also references a non-profit organization called ReFED, which is centering on eliminating food waste in the US. She weaves in quotes from various members of this non-profit’s team.
Among them is a member of ReFED’s advisory council named Chris Hunt, who discusses another way for consumers to reduce food waste. He talks about composting and something called “anaerobic digestion.” Upon researching this term, I found an EPA document recommending it. The writers of this document explain how anaerobic digestion could work in our favor, “Anaerobic digestion occurs naturally, in the absence of oxygen, as bacteria break down organic materials and produce biogas. The process reduces the amount of material and produces biogas, which can be used as an energy source.” The EPA document also shared some advantages of investing in this process. Among them, the authors link anaerobic digestion as a way of diverting unnecessary waste and also generating energy.
Justin Worland references ReFED as well in his Time article. He highlights the non-profit’s suggestions on what the government can do to reduce food waste. One of these potential approaches could be through tax incentives to donate food. In addition, the non-profit’s report encouraged reducing the regulations on food donations as well to make it easier to share food rather than disposing of it. Going a step beyond clearer expiration dates, this non-profit organization’s report also urges smaller packages of food to avoid food waste.
Suggestions of What Consumers Can Do
The most persistent thought I had encountered throughout my research for this article was consumers. What can we do as consumers? Well, for starters, we can plan what we want to eat for the week. Plus, meal prepping and meal planning for each day can be a wonderful way to divvy up food without the stress of having to come up with last-minute combinations of food. In its “Tips to Reduce Food Waste,” the FDA encourages consumers to buy what is often labeled “ugly,” which is neglected in stores. Sometimes, these foods can be discounted in price.
Another helpful tip is to freeze food that you do not have use for right away. I have seen this suggestion on more than one site, sure, but also within my own life as a vegan. I store foods that I do not want to go bad, and then use them as the need for them arises. For example, frozen bananas are far creamier when blended than their room-temperature counterparts. Besides, they do not brown within what feels like hours.
In addition, author Peter Lehner taps into something I am passionate about as a vegan, which is to reduce meat consumption. His reasoning is that meat production is the result of harmful factory farming. He writes, "That’s because feeding grain to animals and animals to humans is a highly inefficient way to feed people. According to industry sources, most feedlots require about six pounds of grain to increase a cow’s weight by one pound. Then, less than half of the cow becomes edible meat. In the end, it takes more than 14 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef sold in a grocery store." Even eliminating meat to just a day or two per week can get us started on reducing food waste.
If there is a specific takeaway to this article, it is to be aware of your food purchases. No matter where you get your food from, you can invest in buying the so-called ugly fruits and vegetables. You can also try composting or be donating food. Whatever you do, you can always research and learn of what options are available in your community.
Do you have some ideas on how to reduce food waste?
Aubrey, Allison. “These 27 Solutions Could Help The US Slash Food Waste.” NPR. 15 Mar. 2016. Accessed 12 Aug. 2018. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/03/15/470434247/these-27-solutions-could-help-the-u-s-slash-food-waste
“Checked Out: How U.S. Supermarkets Fail to Make the Grade in Reducing Food Waste.” Biological Diversity Organization. Accessed 14 Aug. 2018. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/grocery_waste/
Goldenberg, Susan. "Half of All US Food Produce is Thrown Away, Research Shows." The Guardian. 13 Jul. 2016. Accessed 3 Aug. 2018.
Kunde, Sharon. "Food Waste is Destroying the Planet." LA Times. 03 Jun. 2018. Accessed 29 Jul. 2018.http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-kunde-food-waste-20180603-story.html
“Sustainable Management of Food.” EPA. 19 Feb 2017.Accessed 10 Aug. 2018. https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-hierarchy
“The Benefits of Anaerobic Digestion of Food Waste at Wastewater Treatment Facilities”
EPA. Accessed 11 Aug. 2018. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/Why-Anaerobic-Digestion.pdf
“Tips to Reduce Food Waste.” FDA. 7 Dec. 2017. Accessed 12 Aug. 2018. https://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm529383.htm
Worland, Justin. “This Could Be the Best Way to Solve America’s Food Waste Problem.” Time. 9 Mar. 2016. Accessed 10 Aug. 2018. http://time.com/4252941/united-states-food-waste-cuts/