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Thinking About Food Waste – Blog Action Day 2011

#BAD11 – I enjoy participating in Blog Action Day each year. The topics are very interesting, and can be quite important. This year’s topic, food, lends itself to so many possibilities, but I decided to write about food waste in particular. With 3 kids, food waste happens, you can’t stop it entirely. You can try to control it.

Food waste is a huge part of the municipal solid waste generated every year. According to the EPA, it was 14.1% before recycling, and only a small percentage of food waste was recovered through recycling. You can read a detailed report on this at http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2009-fs.pdf. This doesn’t count composting at home; it’s just about what goes into the waste stream.

Some food waste is just in the nature of preparing food. The term includes the scraps that come about from preparing food. If you have a compost bin, the waste from preparing fruits and vegetables can at least be kept out of the waste stream and benefit your garden. Those bits aren’t as problematic as other kinds of food waste.

Cutting Down on Food Waste at Home

Home is the place where you have the most control over food waste. You have the ability to buy only what you need and to make sure leftovers are eaten in a timely manner.

Buying only what you need is often difficult, short of going to the store daily, which has its own serious problems. Most of us are simply not perfect at keeping track of the fresh foods in the fridge, and it often gets worse when those fresh foods become a part of leftovers. Even so, we need to try.

Some foods last better than others, of course. Just compare the shelf life of an apple to a banana. When you have fresh foods, think about preparing or serving the foods that spoil quickly first, saving the more durable fresh foods for later in the week.

To control leftovers, start with your cooking habits. How much will you and your family really eat at a sitting? How can you cook enough to satisfy everyone without having leftovers, or at least have fewer leftovers?

Next, figure out how to get people eating leftovers when you have them. If you have the freezer space, you can make them into frozen lunches to go to work or for those days you don’t want to spend much time on lunch. You can also make it a goal to eat those leftovers before freezing them becomes necessary.

Don’t forget your smaller amounts of leftovers. Sometimes you may need to combine two days of leftovers to get a good new meal out of them.

Kids can be some of the biggest offenders on food waste, and the hardest to control. I can’t tell you how often I have to remind mine to finish a half eaten apple or try to figure out a way to get them to eat a dinner they didn’t enjoy that much. I have a few standby additions my kids reach for when they don’t enjoy a meal, which really help limit the complaints and uneaten meals. The right cheese solves many problems with children. So does ketchup.

You should talk to your kids about why it’s important to not waste food. The recent Sesame Street special on food insecurity really hit home with my oldest, who had been quite reluctant to watch something as babyish as Sesame Street; then she had to watch it again the next night because it touched her so much. When I checked, they had the entire Growing Hope Against Hunger episode on that page.

Benefits of Wasting Less Food

The first benefit of wasting less food is obvious. You spend less money on food. That’s pretty simple. A 2006 study found that people throw away an average of 14% of the food they buy. Cut that number down, and you can save a nice little chunk off your monthly grocery bills, or about $600 a year for a family of 4.

Food waste is also an environmental issue. When food waste goes into a landfill, it decomposes and produces methane. Composting it, on the whole, is probably the better answer when you can’t avoid wasting food and have a way to compost it. Just make sure you aren’t doing anything that will attract rodents or other pests.

Is There Anything Else You Can Do?

While there’s only a little you can do directly about it, I suggest you take a look at the EPA’s food recovery hierarchy for more ideas on how to limit food waste. Most of us don’t have enough excess food that can be safely donated to food banks and such, but it’s good to know what kinds of things you should be encouraging in your community.

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