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Food Waste: How To Nip It In The Bud

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If your monthly grocery bill was as pricey as your mortgage payment, would your relationship with food and the way you prep, eat and ultimately chuck it finally change? One can only hope that you’re uttering an emphatic helllll yeah, because as it stands right now, America has earned the dubious distinction of ditching at least ¼ of the total food that we produce (probably even more according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture).

Why? Because we can, and what’s the big deal, anyway? Every red-blooded American knows that food (like dollar store plastic trinkets and Pabst Blue Ribbon) is cheap and plentiful. When our fridge and cupboards run low, there’s always a never ending supply of edible goodies waiting for us at our local retailer.

Our culture’s inherent wastefulness is often cited as one of the top reasons why we adopt a love-‘em-and-leave-‘em philosophy toward food. We can also be kind of snobby. Why eat leftovers when we can gobble up seemingly fresher, more exciting alternatives? Well, the tides are turning... and not necessarily in our favor.

Global warming has been doing a number on global food crops by compromising yields and even destroying countless acres of plants due to erratic weather patterns. In spite of this, when a 25 cent increase is passed onto the consumer end (per ravaged fruit and veggie variety), that often isn’t enough of a smack in the face to get us to reassess our lifestyle habits.

There’s yet another force at play which could contribute to a far greater pain in our wallets and stomachs. Bees – among our most valued pollinators – have been succumbing to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a still somewhat mysterious ailment that for the past 6 decades has decimated roughly 33% of American bee colonies. Since we’re indebted to them for bringing 80% of the plant-based foods that we regularly munch on to fruition, let’s just put it this way: Houston, we have a problem.

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From the Organic Authority Files

Attention all meat and potato lovers: Don’t think that you’re off the hook. Even if fresh fruit and vegetables aren’t your cup of tea, a mind-boggling volume of staple grains are necessary to create the animal-based protein foods that you know and love.

So, if climate change and CCD contributed to astronomical food prices – which they very well could in the foreseeable future – what would you personally do to afford your weekly grocery bill? Eliminating the priciest edibles from your list (such as meat, convenience items, snacks and alcohol) and preparing the majority of your meals from scratch would both be helpful efforts, as would growing a vegetable garden and canning/freezing the fruits of your labor… but there’s a far simpler solution.

How about cutting food waste right at the source? Those who think nothing of plunking leftover salad greens in the garbage can or allowing perfectly good produce to grow funky-looking fungal colonies inside the crisper drawer, these food conservation ideas are ripe for the pickin’:

  1. First and foremost, learn how to properly store your food in order to extend its shelf life. The British website Love Food Hate Waste offers expert tips on which items are suitable for freezing as well as recipes that make the most of leftover ingredients.
  2. Plan meals in advance, purchase the specific ingredients that you need for each recipe and cook everything promptly. Then immediately pre-portion leftovers, add a label/date on each container and promptly freeze them for a rainy day.
  3. Have produce odds-and-ends cluttering your refrigerator and countertop? Create an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vegetable soup, add a diced veggie mélange to rice for a confetti-colored, nutritive boost, whip up a pot pie or create an omelet (because everyone knows that a few scrambled eggs hide a multitude of wilted produce sins).
  4. Are you a fan of warehouse store deals but not terribly thrilled about the fact that you can never seem to get through 8 pounds of broccoli or a 4 pack of romaine lettuce in a timely manner? Then team up with a few friends to strategize, conquer and divide your purchases.
  5. Better yet, host a monthly progressive cooking ‘swap’ club with friends and family where you each agree to cook at least one agreed upon recipe in bulk (using a treasure trove of CSA, farmer’s market, warehouse or homegrown garden goodies) and then share the wealth with each other.
  6. Create a new family mealtime tradition called ‘empty out the refrigerator night’ which entails everyone eating whatever leftover hodgepodge hogs up your shelves.
  7. Master the art of home canning – and reduce your up-front investment by acquiring necessary supplies from a garage sale or online source such as Freecycle or Craigslist.
  8. Is your green thumb so stupendous that you’re literally tripping over the vegetables in your backyard garden? Chances are good that there are a lot of people out there (many in your neighborhood) with the same awesome problem. Fortunately, you have a few options: You can either gorge on your veggies thankfully, share with coworkers/friends/family, donate excess to a food bank (AmpleHarvest is a particularly fantastic resource), post an ad on Craigslist offering your freebie veggie stash to a lucky duck (or three) or host a monthly produce swap with other prolific gardeners so you can all enjoy the delicious and diverse offerings.

Image via Christina Welsh

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