Recently, I attended a screening of a documentary about food waste called, Just Eat It. I highly recommend watching it. Be prepared, the reality that this documentary presents is not pretty, and it might challenge your wasteful ways. I’ll share with you some of the messages that stuck with me, and hopefully, inspire you to become a part of the food waste solution, instead of the problem.
“The garbage can is not a mysterious black hole” – Just Eat It
The film opens with a shocking statistic: one-third of the food we produce never makes it to our plates. But food is biodegradable, right? So what’s the big deal? The problem is when food decomposes in the landfill, it releases one of the most potent greenhouse gases – methane. According to National Geographic, if food waste was a nation, it would be the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.
Unpacking the Food Waste Problem
Just Eat It caused me to reflect on how food waste is tightly linked to our food culture, and how we value food. Here are a few examples that really hit home for me.
We Reject Imperfect, but Perfectly Edible Produce
A substantial amount of edible produce is left to rot in farmers’ fields because it’s not the right size, shape or colour. As consumers, we have been conditioned to expect perfect produce. And I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of riffling through the banana pile to find a blemish-free bunch. Now I realize how ridiculous this is, and how silly I looked, spending five minutes picking out my bloody bananas. The first time I went to a local farmer’s market I was surprised to discover that the fruits and veggies looked at lot less perfect than their imported counterparts. But never judge a fruit or vegetable by its peel. Once you taste something local that was picked yesterday, at the peak of ripeness, looks become a lot less important.
Food is Cheap
You are probably wondering why I’m making this point with so much recent media coverage about the rising cost of food. Although food is getting more expensive, we have never paid less for food than we do now, which is about 10% of our total income. We live in a world of abundance. Wealthy nations produce about three to four times more food than can be eaten. Our relationship with food has changed. We often value quantity over quality. Restaurants have picked up on this shift in food culture by serving larger portion sizes that lead us to either overeat, or waste food.
What You Can Do About Food Waste
Consumer food waste accounts for one-third of all food waste. That is the same as dropping one in every four of your grocery bags in the parking lot as you leave the store. The good news is, there are many actions you can take to reduce your food waste. Here are a few tips.
1. Buy Ugly
Aesthetic imperfections have no impact on flavour or nutritional quality. Keep an eye out for new supermarket initiatives, such as Loblaw’s Naturally Imperfect program, where you can get ‘ugly’ produce at a discount.
2. Learn to Improvise in the Kitchen
Challenge yourself to be a more creative cook. You might surprise yourself with some delicious results. Some of my favorite go-to meals, such as frittatas, and pita pizzas were created when I had to use up all the vegetables in my fridge that were on the verge of going bad. Wilted spinach won’t make a great salad, but it will be a perfect addition to your pasta sauce or soup. If you want to cut down on organic waste, throw the clean bits and ends of veggies into the freezer, and them use them later to make vegetable stock. I learned this trick from a sustainably-minded dietitian, Marilyne Petitclerc, who has an amazing blog.
3. Learn the Difference Between a Best Before Date and an Expiration Date. Then go tell all your friends!
Expiration dates and best before dates are NOT the same thing. The best before date is an indicator of quality, not food safety, and it only applies to unopened pre-packaged foods that keep fresh for less than 90 days. Don’t worry, your food won’t turn into a pumpkin or self-destruct one day past its best before date. It just might not taste as amazing as it originally did. Expiration dates, on the other hand, are an indicator of food safety. Once a food passes its expiration date, throw it out. Only infant formulas and nutrition supplements (e.g. Boost) are required to have an expiration date. Keep in mind that storing perishable foods properly helps extend their shelf life. Lastly, trust your senses. If it smells off, or looks weird, then it’s probably not the best idea to eat it.
4. Learn to Love Leftovers
There’s no pressure to overeat at the restaurant; just pack up leftovers to go and eat them for lunch the next day. If you want to take it to the next level, bring your own Tupperware to the restaurant. Eating leftovers has several benefits: you cook less often, you get two meals for the price of one, and you reduce food waste. Some foods, like curries and soups, are even more flavourful the next day. You just can’t lose here. Not sure if you can finish leftovers in the fridge before they go bad? Put them in the freezer! When you don’t feel like cooking, it’s the best discovery to find a delicious frozen meal that you just need to defrost.
There you have it. The garbage can is no longer a mysterious black hole! You have been tainted by the truth about food waste. Now, I’ll leave you with a challenge: is there one small action you can start doing today to reduce your food waste? Check out Cooksmarts for tons of great ideas. Share your progress with us on Instagram under the hashtag #RescuedFood.