According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 96% of the food we throw out ends up in landfills.
I am a vegetarian, which is a way of eating people generally associate with social consciousness, wellness fanaticism and recyclable toilet paper. In reality, my childhood religion of Seventh Day Adventism introduced this concept and choice to me in otherwise middle of a community and an extended family who ate everything, include game and chitterlings and of course fried chicken (which I am still known to sneak a pinch of or peel the skin off of, just for the childhood comfort taste). This was just as well. My genes are good and I am hoping to reach a fraction of the age my ancestors have. So I am no Uber-conscious person who bikes rather than drives and scrapes crystal salts on my freshly-shaved underarms. I am probably better about conscious living and the environment than most people, but not perfect. I do my best.
My decision to continue the religion’s practice of preferred vegetarianism but absolutely no pork or shellfish came from my humanity as much as my health; I simply stay looking slender and feeling lighter when I do not eat meat, and I can look every animal in the eye when I pass them at the fair and the zoo and the street, with a clear conscience. I actually love vegetables and never tire of them. That does not mean I don’t waste food. I do- a lot of it.
As a single vegetarian who shops small but often, while staying away from frozen meat and canned goods and packages as much as possible, I am sure I waste more food than carnivorous families who stock up at Costco. Produce goes bad easily. And when I am busy, I will eat out or order in before I will take the time to cook. Then I look in the crisper and fridge to find soured juices, molding fruits, shrunken vegetables, browned pasta and rice dishes, hardened beans and bread. I have often been upset throwing out a whole trash bag of food.
November 17-21 is Food Recovery Week, an EPA-sponsored initiative to train more people to reduce food waste. Once in a landfill, the food breaks down to methane greenhouse gas which speeds up climate change. So, when a waste worker dumped my trash bag it eventually evaporated some ugly stuff in the air for my children to suffer for later. At the risk of Going Gore, I am going to ask others to pay attention to the Illinois Clean Air’s suggestions on this and I am going to keep doing so as well:
- Shop your refrigerator first! Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more. I am actually pretty good at this. I have been both a graduate student and a starving artist in New York City. I know how to make a meal out of a few beans and a pat of butter. I am exaggerating, but you get the picture. Old habits die hard. I generally will not buy food on top of good food, but rather my problem is allowing good food to spoil.
- Plan your menu before you go shopping and buy only those things on your menu. I don’t know what this has to do with wasting food, other than disciplining us not to pick up those novelty items which fill you up with empty calories leading to food waste later. It certainly makes sense not to leave yourself open to impulse.
- Buy only what you realistically need and will use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you are able to use the food before it spoils. This is a Catch-22 that traps a lot of people, including me. I know I am a sucker for a sale. Does my budget come before my environment? A lot of times the answer to this is “Yes,” because I will fall for the prospect to buy more than I need if it means the price for just one will be amazingly lower. Then, I promise to give the excess or other away, and I rarely succeed at the noble idea. I had to stop doing this, seriously.
- Compost food scraps rather than throwing them away. I used to do this. I hope to do so again.
- …and more!
More information and tips about reducing food waste: