We try our best to not let anything go to waste here at Happy Acres. My parents grew up during the Great Depression, when food was often hard to come by, and they taught me to not be wasteful. “Waste not, want not” they often told me, and I guess it made a lasting impact.
A lot of food does get wasted in the United States, way too much for my tastes. Though the data is some 15 years old, this 1997 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture addresses the problem of America’s food losses, and I believe it is worth reading for anyone interested in this topic.
The report estimates that in 1995 around 96 billion pounds of food were wasted or lost by consumers, retailers and food service operations. And please note, that is “billions” with a B! 5.4 billion pounds were wasted at the retail level, while a staggering 91 billion pounds were lost by consumers and the food service industry. All told, the 96.4 billion pounds lost were 27 percent of the food available to eat in the U.S. What a waste of food, not to mention the waste of water and energy resources that went into growing and transporting the food.
And the problem isn’t just in the U.S. either. In 2008 the Stockholm International Water Institute published a study titled “Saving Water: From Field to Fork – Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain”. It claims that 50 percent of the available food worldwide is wasted, causing a crisis of water, food and hunger.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers for this global problem, but I can do my best to make sure I’m not guilty of wasting food myself. We attack the problem here in our own household in several different ways.
For one thing, we rarely throw away any leftover food. We generally freeze any leftovers for later use. In fact, we often cook extra for that very purpose. Today we had leftover frozen soup for lunch, and it was a quick and easy way to get a meal on the table. Later today I am going to cook a big batch of black beans in the pressure cooker, and I know we will have a lot of those to freeze. I call that “planned leftovers”, and it’s a strategy that works well for us. In addition to not being wasteful, it also keeps us from having to spend so much time cooking and preparing meals.
We also preserve as much as possible of the food we grow ourselves by dehydrating, freezing and canning. We keep an inventory of what’s in the freezer, so we know at a glance what is available. And we make a sweep on our freezers at least once a year to make sure nothing is hiding from us. All this helps to keep waste at a minimum. If we find something that is getting old, we try and use it while it’s still edible.
We’ve also learned that the food we grow and eat doesn’t have to look perfect in order to be tasty and healthy. Much food is wasted by consumers and retailers because of purely cosmetic reasons. We do our best to eat all of the “cosmetically challenged” food we can here. We had salad for lunch the other day, and some of the lettuce leaves had brown tips on them. In a grocery, the produce is trimmed and primped and those leaves would likely have been thrown away.
Here, those less than perfect leaves wound up in my salad bowl, and I happily ate them. After all, I had watched that lettuce grow from a seed to a nice sized plant, and I wasn’t willing to waste a single leaf of it!
And we do compost all of our kitchen scraps (except for meat), coffee grounds, tea bags, and paper. All of those things are too good to go to waste, and by composting we will later put them to good use to grow more food.
How about the rest of you? What tips and tricks do you all have for avoiding waste in your household? I’d love to learn more ways we can reduce our waste, and maybe you would too.