Racoons eating the food that humans didn't.Wasted food is a huge problem in the US. Americans waste a ton of food — every 0.7 seconds, to be exact. Our friends over at OnEarth have an eye-opening article on food waste that really shows how this problem translates into other wasted resources: 25% of the water we use and 4% of the oil we burn goes toward producing food that no one is ever going to eat. Food is the single largest source of waste in the state of California, accounting for at least 15% of the garbage that’s picked up every day. Picture this: a garbage man pulls up to the curb in his big diesel-burning truck, steps out to pick up a bag full of your wasted food, which he hauls past a hungry homeless person.

I’ve heard lots of parents tell their kids about starving children in Africa as a means to get them to finish their broccoli. Having rich Americans eat more isn’t going to solve the problem of food waste — that’s only going to aggravate our obesity problem. The real solutions to the food waste problem are right in front of us: reduce, reuse, and recycle.

  1. We can reduce the food we consume by cooking and ordering reasonable portions that we know we will finish. Keep a log of how many servings you can get out of your favorite recipes.
  2. We can reuse the food we make by eating leftovers instead of forgetting about them in the back of the fridge. Use a permanent marker and masking tape to note the day that you put some leftovers in the fridge, and put it in a place where you can’t miss it!
  3. Finally, we can recycle food by supporting grocery stores that participate in food recovery programs. Each year, American grocery stores throw out 5.4 billion pounds of food — much of which is perfectly edible, if slightly misshapen produce. This seems like it should be common sense to give unwanted food to people who need it, but it’s not: some stores in the UK actually pour bleach on wasted food to keep homeless people from eating it!

Take a closer look at your eating habits to see if you’re part of the solution or the problem! Thanks to OnEarth, Progressive Grocer, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the BBC for keeping an eye on this topic.