Posts Tagged ‘food waste’

10 ways to cut household food waste

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Photo: Nick Saltmarsh

When it comes to wasting food, I’m as guilty as anyone. My weakness is to forget about odds and ends in the fridge: half a lemon, say, or a nob of cucumber.  Months later, I find them again, wizened or semi-liquid, and very, very nasty.

One way or another, most of us waste food. A study released earlier this month by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers made headlines with its estimate that 30%-50% of the world’s food never makes it to our plates because it’s damaged or discarded somewhere along the food chain.  In Canada, about 40% of the food we produce each year  — some $27 billion worth – winds up in the garbage bin, says a November 2012 report from the George Morris Centre in Guelph, Ontario.  To boot, more than half of this waste takes place in our homes. 

While waste happens for different reasons in different parts of the world, the studies say that in North America, it stems mainly from consumers who demand cosmetically perfect produce, misunderstand best-before dates, and get carried away buying in bulk.

But whatever the reasons, when we waste food, we waste money and reduce what’s available for people in need.  We also squander the land, water, and energy resources required to grow, harvest, pack, ship and sell food. We can’t afford waste on this scale — especially in the face of climate change and a world population that could reach 9.5 billion by 2075, according to mid-range UN projections.

Since so much food waste occurs at home, here are 10 ways to start paring it down.

  1. Plan your menus ahead of time. Take stock of what you already have. Pick recipes that you’ll have time to prepare and will use up leftovers and perishables. Make a shopping list and stick to it.
  2. Use common sense about best-before dates. Most of us believe we should throw out anything that has reached its best-before date because it’s no longer safe to eat. But we’re wrong. According to the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the best-before date on a Canadian product is the date before which it’s freshest and most nutritious. That’s different from the expiry date some foods carry. Items that have passed the expiry date should be discarded, the CFIA says.
  3. Buy produce that doesn’t look perfect. It may not be the standard size or shape or have a uniform colour, but it will taste fine.
  4. Don’t buy in bulk unless you’re certain the food will get eaten. Otherwise you’ll end up throwing it away, along with the money you think you saved.
  5. Pre-portion foods sold in quantities larger than you need. Most foods – including herbs, bread and milk — can be frozen, so package your purchases into smaller servings and freeze them.
  6. Use up as much of a food item as you can. Instead of pitching those broccoli stalks, slice them for a stir fry; prepare stock from chicken bones; enhance the flavour of a tomato sauce by adding Parmesan cheese rind.
  7. Be creative with leftovers. If you’re not going to eat it in the next 4 days, freeze it. Otherwise, think outside the box: toss over-ripe fruit into a smoothie or stir wilted veggies into soups and stews. Find recipes for specific ingredients by checking out online resources such as Love Food Hate Waste or Love your leftovers.
  8. Be mindful when dining out. Restaurants often serve more than we can eat, so ask for a half portion or bring leftovers home for the next day.
  9. Donate non-perishable items to your local food bank, shelter or pantry (some organizations may accept perishable foods).
  10. Compost. The City of Ottawa provides a green bin program that collects and composts all types of household food waste.  If there’s no program where you live, consider composting your own food scraps to return nutrients to the soil and divert organic waste from landfill.

How do you reduce your home food waste?

Food read roundup: Marion Nestle, Mark Bittman and more

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

As you’d expect at this time of year, most media coverage of food issues has centred on reviews of last year’s trends or forecasts for 2013. In that category, I’ve picked two opinion pieces that I think offer particular insight. The past few weeks have also seen the issue of food waste finally get attention, while an unexpected controversy has emerged about soaring consumer demand for quinoa, the Andean super-grain.

Marion Nestle on food policy in 2013. She’s talking about U.S. food policy here, but since what happens south of the border often affects Canadian industry, consumers and policymakers, it’s worth including. Besides, this is Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat, and Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. A professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, she has become one of the most respected and independent commentators on food safety. Nestle calls it as she sees it, and in The Potentially Transformative Year Ahead in Food Policy, she predicts a more eventful 2013 now that the U.S. is out of election mode. Among other things, she predicts: FDA approval of genetically modified salmon (these salmon are raised in Canada and Panama); more pressure to label genetically modified foods; continued efforts to control childhood obesity through size caps and taxes on soda, and; a bigger push from grassroots groups to “create systems of food production and consumption that are healthier for people and the planet.”

Mark Bittman on priorities and patience. Among the opinions on how to fix the food system this year, Mark Bittman’s January 1 column in the New York Times stands out for me. In it, the well-known journalist, author, and sustainable food champion counsels anyone who wants to reinvent the way we produce and consume food to set clear goals, accept failures as part of progress, and above all, to recognize that meaningful change takes time. A long time. Civil rights, the vote for women and other major social advances have taken decades, even centuries, to fully accomplish. By the same token, it will take time to dismantle the current, complex industrial food system and replace it with one that’s better for our physical, social and environmental health. “Nothing affects public health…more than food,” says Bittman. (Let’s just hope that we have the time that’s required and don’t get pre-empted by climate change.)

Billions of tons of food waste. Thanks to an early January report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) in the U.K., the massive scale of the world’s food waste has become a hot topic. According to the report, anywhere from 30% to 50%, or about 2 billion tons, of food gets tossed out before it reaches our plates. The IME report attributes global food waste to factors such as Western consumers’ insistence that food look perfect, as well as BOGO promotions and overly strict best-before dates. These practices keep food from the hungry, use up significant natural resources, and jeopardize our ability to feed the world’s steadily growing population, the IME says. The waste theme was echoed in a Globe and Mail story on possible food price hikes in 2013, which concludes that readers need to become more aware of their food-waste habits and find more creative ways to use leftovers.

The quinoa controversy. There really is one. And it’s noteworthy because it underscores the potential for conflict between the demands of consumers in affluent countries and the needs of people in developing countries. In a nutshell, super-nutritious quinoa has become so popular in North America and the UK that its price has tripled, making the grain unaffordable for low-income people in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador — the countries that grow it and rely on it as a dietary staple. The issue has quickly become polarizing. For example, the past week saw the Guardian’s Joanna Blythman claim that quinoa has become a “troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange” while others, such as the Ottawa Citizen’s Elizabeth Payne, argued that all the angst is misplaced and that Andean farmers will benefit in the long run.

What have you been reading  about food lately?