By Lena Kim, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Challenge Team
As January rolls around and the dust settles from the holidays, many of us are left with a list of New Year’s resolutions and a hopeful sense of optimism about starting fresh….
“Save more. Waste less. Get organized. Help others. Try something new. Eat healthier. Spend more time with family.” If you recognize one or more of these statements, it’s because they consistently rank high among Americans’ New Year’s resolutions. And while surveys indicate that many resolutions remain unmet by the close of each year, I’d like to propose a wonderfully simple solution for those looking to meet all the goals listed above.
First, let’s touch on the problem: Americans throw out billions of dollars worth of food each year; it’s estimated that a four-person family loses $1,600 in wasted food annually. Much of this food ends up rotting in landfills and emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas. And all this goes on, while one in six Americans are unsure where their next meal will come from. In short, money and food are wasted, people go hungry and our environment suffers.
Now, a solution: Counteract these sobering statistics by resolving to reduce the amount of food you throw away this New Year. By resolving to take a number of simple yet powerful steps to reduce your wasted food, American households can make a positive difference alongside the hundreds of businesses and organizations already participating in EPA’s new campaign, the Food Recovery Challenge. Keeping your New Year’s resolution is simple – shop wisely, cook creatively, donate rather than discard and discard with discretion throughout the coming year.
And here’s the icing on the cake – by reducing the amount of food we discard, we’re making a resolution that impacts not just ourselves, but our families, our communities and the environment. Now that’s a resolution worth sticking to.
Take a stand against wasted food by following these 10 steps. (And check out how each fulfills a resolution for the coming year and beyond.)
- Shop your refrigerator first. Take a peek in your fridge, freezer and pantry before heading to the store, and plan a meal around what you already have before buying more. Presto – money saved without leaving the house. New Year’s Resolution: Save more – Check!
- Take time to plan your menu before you go shopping. Once in the store, buy only items on your list. If it’s not on the menu, it either won’t get eaten or will replace something that had already been planned – either way it will waste food and money. New Year’s Resolutions: Save more, waste less – Check!
- Buy only what you will realistically use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you can use the food before it spoils. Will you really use that industrial-sized box of cereal, gallon jug of soy sauce or party-sized tub of salsa? If not, return it to the shelf! An added bonus to buying what’s on the list – fewer groceries to haul from store to home, and less clutter and excess food in your fridge and pantry. New Year’s Resolutions: Save more, waste less, get organized – Check!
- Choose produce that may not be cosmetically perfect, but is perfectly edible. Seasoned cooks know that those slightly bruised apples taste just as yummy in that pie, knobby carrots are just a crispy as perfect looking ones and misshapen potatoes taste smashing when mashed. This sends signals to the grocer that cosmetic flaws are okay and means that blemished produce doesn’t need to get trashed before reaching store shelves. New Year’s Resolutions: Waste less, try something new – Check!
- Know when food really goes bad – you may be surprised. Most food products indicate a “best by” date. This isn’t an expiration date, but a time in which the contents will be best to consume. Ask your grocer or contact the product manufacturer for more details before you toss out those canned goods, cake mixes or bottled condiments. Some of those cans, for example, may have weeks, even months remaining. New Year’s Resolutions: Save more, waste less, try something new – Check!
- Make like a top chef and use all the edible parts of the food. Stale bread can be used to make croutons, beet tops can be sautéed for an inventive side dish, and green onion tops make an even more flavorful broth. Top chef tip: instead of tossing that parmesan cheese rind into the trash, toss in your spaghetti sauce for an even deeper, richer flavor. New Year’s Resolutions: waste less, try something new – Check!
- Freeze, can or preserve surplus fruits and vegetables. Don’t know what to do with all those apples? Homemade applesauce is a cinch to make. Top chef tip: Did you know the secret to freezing most vegetables is simply to blanch them in boiling water first? A two-minute maneuver that ensures you have healthy, pre-cooked vegetables ready to microwave in a pinch. New Year’s Resolutions: Waste less, try something new, eat healthier – Check!
- Eat or share all your leftovers. Put leftovers in reusable containers, and share with family, friends and neighbors. Everyone knows many dishes, including ham, spaghetti sauce, many meats and of course, pizza, taste even better the next day! New Year’s Resolution: Waste less – Check!
- Donate whole, untouched food from gatherings to your nearby food bank or homeless shelter. In fact, plan a get together with friends and neighbors for a food packing party the morning after that big event. Uneaten, nourishing food will go to a good cause, and it gives you yet another excuse to gather with loved ones in support of a meaningful cause. New Year’s Resolutions: Spend more time with family, help others – Check!
- Compost food scraps rather than tossing them in the trash. Your garden will benefit from the added nutrients, and your kids will learn an invaluable lesson in environmental protection. If you’re unable to compost due to a disability, learn whether your community has a composter who will pick up your organic food waste. Don’t know where to start? Check out EPA’s composting website for easy, quick tips. New Year’s Resolution: Try something new – Check!
New Year’s is about new beginnings. For 2013, let’s resolve to work together to start making a dent in our nation’s food waste problem and feed families, not landfills.
Have more tips on how to reduce wasted food this holiday season? Let us know!
About the author: Lena Kim works with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Challenge team. She lives in Center City Philadelphia.