Wasted food is wasted opportunity


Raise your fork, spoon, knife, or just your hand: We’re taking an unofficial survey.

How many of you threw away food during the holiday, or perhaps after the holidays? Eggnog that was too overdue to be consumed? A few servings of mashed potatoes because you figured, might as well peel the entire five-pound bag? A few stale cookies? The cranberry sauce that wasn’t as welcomed as you envisioned? Veggies past their prime? Chip dip that at least one person double-dipped into?

Would it surprise you to learn that roughly 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted?

In his online message, Richard McCarthy, executive director of Slow Food USA, suggests that people consider wasting less in 2014.

“Food waste is no joke. In our bloated industrial food system, we waste nearly half of what we produce — often just based on looks, before it even hits the table — while at the same time we expand our waistlines with cheap calories and cripple our local food economies.”

He suggests fighting food waste by restoring value to food and pleasure to the moment of consumption. “Being more mindful with our personal choices can make a big difference. Buy and eat only what you need. Find creative ways to use leftovers. Compost your food scraps. Share extra food with your friends, neighbors, and co-workers,” he said in his message. “This year, let’s resolve to go Slow(er) and savor the flavors.”

Others have been on board for years with this Just Say No To Waste lifestyle, and others are just starting to climb aboard.

On the We Hate To Waste Web site, tips are offered that promote a no-waste lifestyle. We Hate To Waste is an online community for people who hate to see food, energy, water — you name it -- go to waste. It encourages people to get the most from products they buy.

We Hate To Waste hopes to spark culture change and cross-fertilize the best ideas to conserve resources and eradicate wasteful consumer practices.

Waste watchers, for example, believe in Less is Better, such as owning a few prized possessions rather than a mountain of cheap and meaningless stuff’.

Consider what you have read on the Protect Mother Earth posters: reduce, reuse, recycle.

Consumers are encouraged to shop more thoughtfully, preserve food that is purchased, and reinvent leftovers, for instance.

Some tips include: Heed the Food Recovery Pyramid. Other tips fall under “source reduction,” such as by preventing food waste before it’s created. Extra edible food should go to hungry people, then to animals. If food waste cannot be avoided it should be converted to energy or composted, and only as a last resort should it go to the landfill, according to the Web site that offers other tips, such as on how to shop smart.

Some are tips we’ve heard for decades: don’t shop hungry; that risks buying food you don’t really need, and just might end up tossing rather than consuming.

The U.S. EPA offers the chance to take part in a Food Recovery Challenge, encouraging participants to rethink resources rather than wasting food and money.

Participants are asked to reduce as much of their food waste as possible – saving money, helping communities, and protecting the environment. The challenge is part of the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program, which seeks to reduce the environmental impact of materials through their entire life cycle, including how they are extracted, manufactured, distributed, used, reused, recycled, and disposed.

The challenge seeks participation from grocers, universities, stadiums, and other venues, seeking them to rethink business as usual, such as by learning to purchase leaner and to divert surplus food away from landfills for better uses through prevention, donation, and recycling.

Participants are asked to choose their actions and to set goals, such as to modify food purchasing, change food production and handling practices, reduce excessive portion size, and donate to those in need.

The program notes that wasted food has economic, environmental, and social impacts. Much of this “waste” is not waste at all, but actually safe, wholesome food that could potentially feed millions of Americans. Excess food, leftovers, and scraps that are not fit for consumption and donation can be recycled into a nutrient-rich soil supplement.

So, what can individuals do? Think and rethink. Shop smart. Eat smart.

And those leftovers? Figure out ways (share with a neighbor, for instance) to use them rather than discarding them after they get the fuzzies in your fridge.