I could never work in the food industry. Not because of the endless temptations or the starchy uniforms. It is because I could not handle seeing all of the food that is wasted during production, distribution and consumption. I am very easily upset by people who waste food. Like most principles, this oversensitivity probably stems from childhood, growing up in an Italian family where eating every bite was expected - and normal. Add to that the 3rd grade memory of sitting in the school cafeteria over a tray of hotdogs and not being allowed to play at recess until I cleaned my plate. Regardless of the emotional determinant, concern over food waste is something that provokes my obsessive compulsive disorder.
According to a 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. This adds up to $165 billion in losses going straight to the landfills. Not to mention the disturbing fact that 1 in 6 Americans does not have access to enough food.
Fortunately, there are things we all can do as consumers to help these staggering statistics.
- Shop with a purpose. This means plan ahead. By making a list of items you need to make a planned meal, the risk of buying and not using something that you do not have a plan for is greatly reduced.
- Know when food really goes bad. Many people read an item’s sell-by date as an indicator of when the food will spoil, but that is an inaccurate assumption according to the NRDC. Manufacturers use sell-by dates to help retailers manage their inventory and encourage stores to sell a product within a certain time frame so that the food still has a shelf life once it is purchased. The labels “best before” and “use by” do NOT indicate a deadline after which foods go bad, but how long the food will be at peak quality.
- Buy produce that is not the most attractive. Go ahead and eat the apple that has the pockmark. That just means it is real.
- Buy and cook only the amount of food you need unless you have a plan for using the leftovers later. Shopping often helps ensure that you do not over-purchase, especially when it comes to fresh produce.
- Eat your leftovers. There is nothing wrong or passé about leftovers. Your food will probably taste better the next day anyways.
- Be mindful at the buffet. By now I am sure you have a pretty good idea of the capacity of your stomach. I do not understand why the presence of a buffet makes some think that they are capable of eating much more than they are physically capable. At buffets you can usually make multiple trips. Remember that. Do not load up one enormous plate of food and then realize a third of the way through that you had a big lunch.