1. Over Consumption – Easy access to food, through supermarkets, gas stations and mini marts on every corner, makes us believe that our food supply is endless. It also means that we are tempted to buy more when we see something we like. In addition to that, our mothers have convinced us that it is always better to have food left over rather than have less to eat. That motto might have worked in the middle-age, when food was hard to find. Today, it not only leads to significant amounts of food waste, but also consuming too much on a daily basis leads to chronic illnesses.
If the growing obesity epidemic is a sign of anything, it should send consumers a clear message to cut back on their eating. First, we all should become familiar with the recommended daily caloric intake for our age and height. To make calorie counting easier, we can begin utilizing the many calorie counting applications freely available on the web. Second, it is a well known fact that a bigger plate will lead you to eat more without even noticing. In some cases, up to 30% more. The reason is that our body sends us the ‘full stomach signal’ 20 minutes after we begin eating. With a smaller plate we consume less before this time is up, with a bigger one, well… you can do the math.
2. Over Buying – Today’s fast pace and demanding lifestyle makes everyone interested in ‘saving time’. We try to be efficient in almost everything we do: house cleaning, commute to work or even grocery shopping. By trying so hard to save time and be more efficient, we overlook the problems it is causing. Nowadays, people prefer going to big supermarkets, such as Costco, Walmart or Carrefour, because you can do all your shopping in one place, and buy in bulk so it lasts the whole week.
With each family following the same motto of saving time and buying in bulk, consumers are responsible for 55-60% of global food waste (the retail sector and manufacturers are responsible for the rest). With the average American family of 4 losing $2,275 on food waste, it should give us all something to think about. In order to cut back on the food and monetary waste, shopping lists should become every shopper’s best friend. So make some room on your smart phones for really good shopping or to do list applications, they will not only make you efficient, but help you save money too!
P.S. Unless, you are really sure about your purchase, try to avoid Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF) offers. Often it seems as a good buy, but more than usual, it’s just a money grabbing scheme. Most of the products that appears with such an offer are close to their expiration date, so we just throw the second product away.
3. Confusion over expiration dates – If we conduct a quick quiz of the consumer population about the difference between ‘expiration’ and ‘sell by’ dates, most won’t know how to tell them apart, nor what they stand for. In fact, this confusion is one of the leading causes for food waste, both for consumers when they’re at home, and supermarket workers, that throw away edible food so that clients don’t complain about the quality of the food being offered. During one interview with a Costco manager, I was told that it is easier to throw away food that is close to its ‘sell by’ date, rather than ruin their reputation trying to teach consumers what it means through personal exposure.
Being responsible for more than half of global food waste, we as consumers have no excuse but to educate ourselves, friends and family about the difference between the two dates. So, for the record, and in the hopes that you will spread the message, I will explain the difference to in a few words. A ‘sell by’ date is set by manufactures that produce food, such as yogurt, or cake, or milk, etc…with a thought of how much time the consumer has to enjoy the best taste of the produce after buying it. Many supermarkets can’t change this date, and usually have to take the produce that reached the ‘sell by’ date off the shelves because of contractual agreements. A ‘use by’ or an ‘expiration’ date is more important. This date tells you the recommended time by which the product you bought is safe or good to consume. As you can see, the two dates are very different and address completely different parts of your produce, so learn them well and help spread the info.
4. Leftovers – This is an unavoidable phenomenon that occurs often. It arises when we overestimate how much food we need for the week, cook too much for a party, or simply lose our appetite and don’t eat all that we have prepared. Since this problem is pretty straightforward, I will directly jump to the solutions.
There is always more than one solution to any problem, in this case I will cover three. First, some of the leftovers can be frozen and used at another time. Such as eating the same dish for lunch and dinner, or freezing fruits and vegetables for a later use. Second, if you have a green thumb and keep a small garden in the backyard, the organic leftovers can be composted and used as fertilizer. If you don’t have your own garden, check the internet to see if there is a community garden next to your house, maybe they will be happy to compost your food? Third, become familiar with new recipes through which your leftovers can be transformed to something more delicious. For some help, turn to Use the Food website for helpful recipes,or if you like to cook, share some of your own. Finally, if there is any fruit or vegetable that is too ripe and hast lost all firmness to be used in cooking, you can always use it in a smoothie to make a very healthy snack. It is easy, fast and tasty to make!
5. Lack of Donations – When was the last time you donated some canned goods to a nearby food bank, or participated in a local food drive? Chances are, if you are not part of a school, church or community initiative, you personally won’t think of donating. After all, throwing something away is much quicker than trying to look for people who would need what you have to offer. Yet, in times of crisis, when global climate change is more than just a theory, population growth is rising, and our food security is more endangered, this extra step becomes a necessity, and not an option.
Become familiar with your local food bank. It doesn’t take much research to find one, and doing something good for other people will be well worth the energy and time you put into it. For starters, you can Google the words ‘food bank’ and the region you live in to find the biggest food banks. If you live in the United States, you can utilize the tools of Feeding America, one of the biggest organizations addressing hunger in the country. On the Feeding America website you can find the food banks based on the state you live in. So don’t prolong any longer, and check them out!
6. Food Storage – Our refrigerators and cupboards have become graveyards for our food. We buy and buy and buy, then store it all away and forget what we bought in the first place. Often times, some of our food gets stuck on the bottom of our fridge, out of our hands reach, where the light never shines. While it is very similar to every other storage place we own (garage, closets, attics, etc), the biggest difference is that our food can rot and decompose, while shoes, equipment, and old mechanics sit patiently until the day you find them again.
An easy way to address this is to remind yourself to put the new arrivals in the back of the fridge, and push the older ones to the front. First of all, the older produce are more ripe and therefore more flavorful for use. Secondly, it will remind you to use them before they expire. In addition to that, please check your refrigerator settings. For your food to stay fresh for a longer time, your fridge temperature needs to be set between 1-5 Celsius/34-41 Fahrenheit.