I recently went back to visit my parents in the US and was shocked by the state of their refrigerator. It looked something like this:
If you hail from a Westernized country, then you are probably wondering what is so shocking about this fridge. Well, compare it to the state of my refrigerator:
From a Western viewpoint, you’d probably think that my daughter and I were starving. No, my child and I are not starving! In fact, from these “bare” shelves, I am going to make an awesome dinner of pancakes stuffed with sauted mushrooms, spinach and lentils topped with fresh tomatoes and vegan sour cream.
With this “empty shelf syndrome” affecting so many Americans, it is no wonder that people are wasting so much money on food. According to the estimates by the National Resources Defense Council,
Americans throw away 25% of the food and beverages they buy per month, costing the average family of four of $1,365 to 2,275 yearly.
In the UK, things are a bit better since the government initiated a plan to reduce waste, such as by clarifying that “best used by” does not mean the food expires on that day! They managed to reduce household waste by 18% from 2007 to 2013, but Brits are still tossing out 20% of what they buy!
Lucky me that I live in Eastern Europe where things are very different as far as food goes. For starters, there is a food market on the corner of every street (I’ve actually got three on my short street). Heck, I used to live in a town of just 5,000 people and even it had 7 markets plus an outdoor green market. With so many grocery stores in close proximity, it is no problem for me to go shopping every single day. I just make sure to always have dry staples on hand and pick up the fresh fruits or veggies I need every day. It might sound like a burden to go shopping every day. But, actually, it makes my life easier. Meal planning is a breeze, shopping is quick and easy, and I save oodles of money because I NEVER throw food away.
(Okay, I do sometimes throw food away. But it is a really rare thing at my house.)
Throwing away food isn’t just throwing money in the trash. It is also taking a serious toll on the environment:
- Food production from farm to fork consumes 10% of total US energy budget
- Food production uses 50% of US land and 80% of all freshwater used in the US
- Food waste is the largest component of US landfills
- Rotting food waste accounts for 23% of the US’s methane emissions
How to Stop Throwing Away So Much Food
Okay, I’ve admittedly got it a lot easier than the average American, Canadian, or UK dweller. It is easy for me to go shopping every day (I pass 3 markets on the 4-block walk to my daughter’s preschool every day). But I also believe that anyone can reduce food waste without making it a big hassle.
Put It In the Friggin’ Freezer!!!
According to the NRDC report, people today are preparing a lot more food than they used to. They estimate that the surface area of the average plate increased by 36% from 1960 to 2007 (obesity epidemic, anyone?). As a single working mom, I am a big proponent of cooking in large quantities. It means you’ve got leftovers to eat. But the key is to actually eat them! Nobody likes eating the same thing every single day, so put the extra food into freezer bags or containers and put it in the freezer.
While you are at it, put all fruits and veggies that are about to go bad into the freezer. Just make sure to clean them and cut them up first for easier dethawing. All those frozen fruits make great smoothies or can be added to cereal. Throw all the veggies together in a pan for a stir fry or into a pot for a quick soup.
Note: I put things in the freezer RIGHT AWAY instead of lying to myself that I will eat it tomorrow and then waiting until it is all slimy and gross before throwing it into the freezer.
The Infamous Meal Plan
Yes, yes. You know that you should be making a meal plan. But are you actually doing it? And are you actually sticking to it? According to a retail association study, 76% of supermarket purchases are made on impulse. The result is that you have a LOT of food in your fridge and pantries that you will probably never get around to eating.
At the very least, you can make a shopping list. This way, you will avoid buying foods that you already have on hand (I’ve made a very easy vegan shopping list which you can go by). If you are super-savvy, then you will compile a few recipes to make for the week which use the same core ingredients. So, if Monday’s recipe calls for half a zucchini, then Tuesday or Wednesday’s recipe better also call for half a zucchini.
If you are the type that succumbs to sale items, then take a look at the store flyers and make your meal plan to include these sale items.
Buy a Single Orange
It feels wrong to buy a single orange at the store (or a single item of any produce). But are you really going to eat all 10 of those oranges, or will you be sick of oranges after the 3rd day of bringing them to work? Who cares about what a hassle it is for the cashier person to weigh each item individually if it means buying less and producing less waste.
While we are at it, stop shopping for produce at places which force you to buy entire bags of produce (like Trader Joes). You will also want to avoid all of those “super saver” packages which give you mass quantities of food for cheap. The UK report found that 35% of bagged salads, 40% of apples, and HALF of bakery items like bread get throw away!
Recipes are for Inspiration Only
How many times have you bought an ingredient for a recipe, only to use just a bit of it and throw the rest away? Stop being a slave to recipes. Just do without the ingredient or find a substitution. Or, if you are actually making a smart meal plan (as you should be), then your meal plan would include dishes which also contain that ingredient.
You Can Use the Stems Too
Here’s a news flash: the stems and leaves of vegetables are edible! I personally make an awesome slaw out of grated broccoli stems 🙂 You can also slice them up thinly and add them to your dish along with the tops. Out of laziness, I usually don’t even peel potatoes, which means even less food wasted. With the less-tasty stems and leaves, I just throw them into a giant bag in my freezer. When the bag gets full, I throw them all into a giant pot, cover with water and some seasonings, and simmer until I’ve got a bangin’ veggie stock.
You Can Always Make Compost
I admittedly don’t do this. But, if you want a way to assuage your guilt about throwing away a lot of food, you can always compost it. My friend Tyler has some great advice on composting at his website Crazy About Compost, including how to compost indoors without making your kitchen stink.
Refrigerator by Mark H. Anbinder Attribution License
This is what a *real* vegan freezer looks like. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License
nothing but delicious!!! by Attribution-NonCommercial License