Neal and I recently had the pleasure of having Kelsey Tanner with us for a two-week rotation as part of the Montana Dietetic Internship (MDI) program. Kelsey earned her Master’s degree in Food Systems with a focus in food security and access from NYU, and had chosen the Montana Dietetic Internship because of its emphasis on sustainable food systems. Kelsey is passionate about the environment, and about the impact of our food choices & food system on the environment in particular. When I asked Kelsey to write a guest post on a topic of her choosing, she immediately decided to write about reducing personal food waste; an often overlooked, yet significant consideration. Please welcome Kelsey Tanner, dietetic intern and guest blog writer:
When people think about making smart food choices, thoughts typically turn first to long-term personal wellness. But there’s an even bigger picture to consider beyond individual health when it comes to making food choices, and that’s the health of our planet.
According to the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, nearly one-third of food produced worldwide for human consumption is lost or wasted. In the U.S. specifically, a typical family of four leaves more than 2 million calories, worth a staggering $1500, uneaten each year. Aside from the financial and food security implications of all this wasted food, the vast majority of this discarded food ends up in landfills, where it releases methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas, 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In addition, valuable resources such as water and energy were used to produce the food, and when the food is wasted, so are the resources used to grow, produce, and deliver that food.
Luckily, just as there are small habits we can adopt to improve our overall health, there are also simple habits we can integrate into our daily routines that can help us reduce food waste, beginning with the 5 strategies listed below:
- Plan your meals. Not only will meal planning help improve your personal nutrition intake, it can significantly reduce food waste at home. Start the planning process by checking your fridge and pantry. Check to see what you already have on hand, and use that first instead of buying more. Make a list of what needs to be used sooner rather than later. Consider portion sizes too. It’s a good strategy to intentionally plan leftovers to bring for lunch, or use in a reimagined way later in the week, but only make an amount that you can reasonably eat before the food goes bad, or you get tired of the same thing.
Tip: Dedicate a shelf in the fridge specifically for food that may be starting to turn bad soon, then use those items for inspiration when you plan your next set of meals.
- Choose ugly produce. Much of the produce dumped before it reaches consumers hands is due to natural imperfections, though it is completely fine to eat. These funny-looking fruits and vegetables have been viewed as a profit loss because they are avoided by customers, and so they are often left on the field or refused by retailers. This loss is estimated to account for 25% percent of all produce grown, contributing to more than half of all food wasted. Recently, ugly fruit and vegetables have gained attention in the press and social media, leading to efforts to reduce waste by changing the fate of these blemished produce. These ugly fruits and vegetables have the same nutrient content as beautiful ones, so get your recommended servings of fruits and vegetables per day by going ugly. Help reduce the amount of produce that goes to waste by purchasing produce with blemishes from local farmers and retailers.
- Don’t dump it, freeze it. Many fruits and veggies can be frozen, so before they go bad in your fridge, cut them up, freeze them, and use them later to make a delicious smoothie, soup, or other healthy favorite. On several occasions, at the end of a busy week I’ve found myself with an excess of peaches, bananas, berries…you name it. In a panic, I try to figure out how I can eat as much fruit as possible in the time it has left, so it does not have to end in the trash. However, you don’t have to go on a fruit-binge to keep fruit out of the dump! All fruit can be frozen, so when there is too much or it is not going to last, cut it up, throw it in a baggie, and mark the date. Fruit can last up to a year frozen, if stored properly. Use it in a smoothie and turn what would have been food waste into an additional daily serving of fruit.
Tip: Freeze in smaller one-portion baggies or containers. This minimizes clumping, makes it easier to use, and prevents unfreezing and refreezing.
- Don’t trash it, can it. Preserving foods through fermentation is an easy way to make vegetables last, while gaining added benefits. The fermentation process can increase the nutritional content by increasing the availability of nutrients, such as iron, to the body. Fermented food also acts as a homemade probiotic, supporting gut health. So when you didn’t have time to make that dinner you had shopped for, your garden is overflowing with cucumbers, or maybe the beets and carrots looked so great at the farmer’s market that you overdid it, don’t trash those veggies! Can them so both you and the environment can reap the benefit.
Tip: Fermentation is just one way method used in canning. Canning works for all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and even soups, and is a great way to preserve your food. Never canned before? Here is a great intro resource.
- Dine smart. It is estimated that about 10% of all food waste comes from restaurant food uneaten by its customers. However, eating out is when we tend to overeat. A study from 2014 in the journal Public Health Nutrition showed that dining out for one meal tends to lead to an additional 200 calories to that day’s intake. So here are a few tips for reducing both food waste and your waistline:
- Order an appetizer as your main course
- Some restaurants offer half portions on the menu. If not, there’s no harm in asking if a half portion could be provided.
- Share an entree with a friend
- Box up half your entree and take it home for another meal
Tip: For buffet style food at restaurants or campus cafeterias, start small. Take small portions each time and go back if you are still hungry. This not only reduces the amount of food left on your plate once you’re finished, but helps regulate your appetite, making it easier to stop once you feel full, preventing you from overeating.
If you are interested in learning more about food waste and what you can do about it, check out some of these resources:
- Food Wastage Footprint Summary Report (FAO)
- Reducing Wasted Food at Home (EPA)
- Reducing Food Waste infographic (Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics)