Does a “use by” date trigger food anxiety in the pit of your stomach?
Do you despair over the old spaghetti that got lost in the back of your refrigerator or the bananas rotting on your counter?
Do you have any idea how you should store apples (the fridge, right away), avocados (on the counter until ripe, then the fridge), or olive oil (a cool, dark cupboard, never the fridge) so they don’t go bad?
If you answered yes to the first two questions and no to the third, you need to get a copy of the Waste Free Kitchen Handbook pronto. It’s a “guide to eating well and saving money by wasting less food,” and it could change the way you shop, cook, store, and dispose of your groceries.
The book was written by Dana Gunders, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who is leading the work on reducing the amount of food wasted in the U.S.
You might not think of food as a natural resources issue, but growing, processing, and delivering produce, grains, meat, dairy products, poultry, and fish to market is one of the most resource-intensive industries not just in America, but worldwide.
In fact, producing the food we throw away generates more greenhouse gases than most entire countries do. (Tweet this) More than a third of all of the food that’s produced on our planet never reaches a table.
Plus, how we consume food takes a big toll on our pocketbooks. According to Gunders, a huge amount of food goes uneaten. And when we buy food we don’t consume, we may as well be throwing our money away, let alone all the water, energy, seeds, and nutrients used to produce it.
“It occurred to me that no matter how organically or sustainably we grow our food, if it doesn’t get eaten, it doesn’t do anyone any good.”
The statistics are almost mind boggling:
- About 40 percent of all food in the U.S. is not consumed. “It’s like buying five bags of groceries than dropping two of the bags in the grocery store parking lot and not bothering to pick them up,” says Gunders.
- Americans are throwing away an average of $120 each month per household of four in the form of uneaten food. “That’s real money going straight into the garbage instead of paying off your credit card bills or adding to your savings account.”
- Each of us tosses nearly 300 pounds of food a year. That’s enough to make over 250 meals!
Why all the waste?
In part, it’s because we buy too much food at once, then forget about it, or cook it and then forget about it.
Another problem is that we’re operating under false assumptions. The worst may be that we believe that foods labeled with “sell by,” “use by” and “best before” dates need to be tossed once those dates are reached.
But that’s not true. Those labels “don’t mean that the food is spoiled after that date,” says Gunders. In fact, they don’t indicate the safety of your food at all. They are simply manufacturers’ suggestions for when food is freshest or at its peak quality. Many foods will stay good for days or even weeks after the date listed on the package, especially foods like grains, pasta, canned soups, and condiments.
Gunders’ book aims to bust these and other myths and reduce waste overall by providing clear and simple suggestions for shopping, storing, cooking, preserving, and even composting food so as little is wasted as possible.
One chapter offers ideas on how to create a smart food shopping plan (never go to the store without a list, for starters!). Others tell you how to store fruit, vegetables, seasonings, grains, meats, fish and pretty much any other food you’d buy to keep it edible longer. For anyone who, like me, sometimes treats my fridge like Fort Knox and just keeps packing in the food as if it were gold, Gunders provides ways to keep track of what’s where, and when it should be eaten. (I’ve also pulled together this list of the 10 best foods to buy in bulk to save money and reduce waste.)
She offers recipes to help use up any food you buy, too. Of course, there’s a step-by-step recipe for making Anything Goes Soup, as in, anything left over goes in the soup. But did you know you can bury ripe avocado in chocolate mousse? Sneak uneaten black beans into brownies? Or infuse vodka with fruits slightly past their prime, as well as herbs, ginger, citrus peels and chile peppers. Not that you need a cocktail to contemplate your new food future, but it might help.
You can jump start your transition to a waste-free kitchen by taking a look at SavetheFood.com.
We’d also love to know what you do to reduce food waste in your kitchen. What brilliant wraps do you make with wilted lettuce leaves? Do you have a secret veggie burger recipe that would surprise us all if you revealed it contains leftover kumquats?