“So, what do you do to fight food waste? Give very concrete examples.”
Surprisingly enough, I have only been asked this question once. Most of my conversations about food waste involve me giving examples of wasteful practices in the food industry and how households generate waste due to obliviousness, pointing out the environmental and economic senselessness of it all. The listener usually nods and agrees in a “yeah that’s really bad (…but that’s just the way things are)” kind of way. As happy as I am to have made someone else aware of the issue, I often get the feeling that the other person has little faith in my cause to reduce waste.
However, talking with my study abroad program director gave the discussion a new spin. I talk big about the importance of combatting food waste, but what do I actually do? Am I just an armchair activist? The question wasn’t meant as a challenge – in fact, I think he was simply curious to learn what the average consumer, like him, could do. Nonetheless, it forced me to do some reflecting.
- I’m mindful of what is already in my pantry and fridge. That means two things: 1) waiting until something is running low or has run out before buying another, and 2) using what I have before it goes bad. It’s good to have a stock of canned soups, dry goods like pasta, and frozen items, but anything that can rot, grow mold, become rancid, and/or go stale needs to be eaten. For instance, if I have bread on the counter, I’ll probably have toast for breakfast rather than a bowl of cereal. Or, if one bag of tortilla chips is open, I won’t even open a bag of pita chips until it’s finished.
- I buy fresh produce in limited quantities every couple of days and with a game plan. Leafy greens can be used as a side-salad in any meal, but, for other fruits and vegetables, I usually have a few dishes in mind to use them up soon.
- I take advantage of my freezer. I freeze almost all of my raw meat as soon as I buy it, leftover ingredients or sauces (especially pesto!) to save for later, and most bread, by the half-loaf, to prevent mold.
- I trust my senses more than expiration dates. Dates can serve as good guidelines for how soon something should be eaten or frozen, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all.
- I love leftovers. Whether from my own cooking, friends’ dinner parties, or restaurants, I am always happy to re-eat something the next day. It’s also fun to jazz leftovers up to create a new dish!
- I only order things that will be eaten. There are not many things that I do not eat, but if I want a salad that comes with, say, orange slices, I will kindly specify, “No oranges, please,” when ordering. Alternatively, if I’m eating with company, I’ll ask whether someone would like to have my oranges. Also, when I see bread on other people’s tables, I’ll immediately ask the waiter not to serve me bread.
- I happily buy misshapen, blemished, or otherwise visually-unappealing food so that it doesn’t go unsold for shallow aesthetic reasons. I haven’t had the pleasure of being to an ugly food store yet, though.
If these ‘efforts’ seem simple, it’s because they are. Consumers could easily prevent thousands of tons of waste if they just put their minds to it. To me, most of these habits come so naturally that I don’t consider them noteworthy. Still, considering our wasteful culture, I’m proud of the little things I do.
You don’t have to be freegan to take a stand against waste.