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.
I had no idea that much food is wasted. I get upset if a little bit of lettuce goes bad. I also like your freezer inventory. We really need to do that. I found a few things in the downstairs freezer that I had no idea was down there.
We really don’t waste much food at all. Like you, we freeze extras, can, freeze fresh, dry and store. We are also the people on our block that have no garbage. We recycle and compost almost all of our so called “garbage”. My neighbors always mention to me how we usually only have recycling out on one of our two trash days.
I really think if people just pay attention, a lot of “garbage” and waste could be elimated.
It’s disgusting how much food the country wastes! We do our best not to waste any food either. We recently bought a big chest freezer so that we could freeze a lot of our food. Especially when we start to harvest from the garden. And we also just got a dehydrator so I cannot wait to start using that!!
I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who eats imperfect lettuce leaves. What’s a little bug hole here and there? I struggle a bit with the freezer inventory, but we rarely waste things here, either. I plan on leftovers to take for lunch, and often cook a big batch with lunches of freezing in mind. And with hens, not much is wasted, what little they don’t eat (potato peels, coffee grounds) gets composted. The amount of food that is wasted in this country is appalling.
I’m always amazed when I hear those stats. I’ve heard them before, but it is so much food. I’m one of those waste not want not kind of people. Especially with food.
I think perhaps one of the many reasons so much food is wasted revolves around the fact that everyone is so very far removed from the sources of these foods. I mean, if I plant a carrot, water, weed, and tend it all summer, harvest it in the fall, store it in the root cellar, and them maybe even hold it over and let it grow again the whole of next summer for seed…that carrot becomes very important, very valuable to me because of all the time and effort involved on a personal level.
I think we could use more home and community gardens and definitely more food recycling programs, especially for grocery stores and restaurants. Programs that would return some of the better foods to those who need it and use the inedible foods to provide immense amounts of composted materials for the community gardens. Also, for those large monoculture farmers that exist on government subsidies, perhaps one of the requirements would be to not waste those products that are not deemed fit for the supermarket shelves…put them to good use in the communities surrounding these farms. As that 1997 report suggests, the aformentioned businesses are responsible for a lot of waste. I know, I use to work at one of these supermarkets and we tossed immense amounts of perfectly good food in the garbage each and every day.
Personally I am a bit of a pessimist and doubt that anything like this will happen anytime soon simply because I don’t think people really care enough until they are faced with some of the same hardships our ancestors endured.
Anyway, I like your salad, ours look like that too.:) We use well over half of our food wastes to feed the chickens and are rewarded in turn with eggs, the other percentage is composted and returned to the garden. No food of any sort ever enters our garbage…not after all the work it takes to grow and cook it.:) This was a great post, thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Mike, I think you are right about people being disconnected from their food and that it contributes to the waste problem. I think it is hard for most gardeners to grow something and then not use it. But unfortunately most are not involved in their own food production these days.
I volunteer once a week at a ‘soup kitchen’, and we have people who collect things from groceries, bakeries, etc. that would otherwise get tossed out. Us volunteers sort through the stuff and anything edible goes to the kitchen, the food pantry, or out on tables to be given away. It’s amazing, but of all the stuff that was going to go in the dumpster, very little winds up being wasted. And I confess that sometimes I even take some of the rotten stuff home to toss on our compost pile.
Hi! Love your website… Found it via Annie’s Garden…
Am afraid you found the worst offender in me! I am the Queen of Waste. It’s just horrible. I throw out more food each week… I’d like to learn more about composting – so I’m busy reading your blog!
Thanks for the tips! Some of us sure can use them!
My grandparents all went through WWII, through rationing, and trying to keep enough food on the table to feed a family. That’s probably why they became avid vegetable gardeners, as fresh produce was scarce. They taught me not just to garden, but like you, to also be mindful of what we waste. Honestly, I’d rather eat slightly blemished food that I’ve grown myself, than pristine food in the market with no flavor.
We do the planned leftovers here too. Any time I make a pasta sauce, or pesto, soup, chili, curry etc., I always make much more than we need at that moment, and freeze the remainder. It’s almost no more effort to make 8 quarts of soup as 1 or 2. At least then, on busy nights, we can resort to our own cooking, rather than some salt or fat-laden alternative processed ‘convenience food’, and besides it’s fun, and very satisfying, to be eating pesto in January made from basil you grew in July, from seed!
I now only grocery shop AFTER rummaging through the refrigerator and pantry. All the fruit and vegetable scraps are either fed to the chickens, or composted, and best of all, growing our own food results in no packaging waste. Who really needs to buy a lettuce in a plastic-wrapped plastic box?