Mom meant well when she told you to clean your plate. But the food waste problem goes way beyond your untouched broccoli—and starts way higher in the supply chain. It’s the 133-billion-pound, $161-billion elephant in the room of the American food system, where an estimated 30 to 40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed.
Food waste is also the single largest constituent of municipal landfills and the third largest source of methane in the U.S.
Europe is leading by example. Over the past five years, Denmark has cut food waste by 25% through a grocery chain that sells mislabeled, misshapen, expired, and otherwise unsellable products. Think crushed cereal boxes, or conjoined produce—products that might not look so hot on the shelf but are, for all intents and purposes, fine to eat. And popular U.K. chain Tesco just announced that they will begin donating unsold food at the end of each day instead of tossing it.
While we’ve seen small-scale versions of these programs stateside—a “surplus goods” grocery store in Boston, for example, or Panera’s “Day-End Dough-Nation,” which sends unsold bread and baked goods to local hunger relief organizations—consuming food that’s older or “off" is at odds with the very systemized, mass-produced approach to food in the U.S.
If you're frustrated with amount of food wasted in this country, remember that there are still steps you can take, on the micro-level, in your own kitchen and neighborhood, to cut back on waste:
- Commit to a week of waste-free cooking (and you'll see how creative you can be in the kitchen when push comes to shove).
- The food you normally think of as trash (stems, rinds, stalks, greens)? We have 30 recipes that will change your perception (and reduce your amount of compost).
- Seek out high- and low-tech "tools" (like a local food pantry, airtight storage containers, and a hungry dog) that will help you cut back on waste.
- Plan ahead, buy less often, learn to can, and follow these four other tips from chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio.
How do you reduce food waste in your own home and neighborhood? Share tips with us in the comments below!