Can you afford to throw $2,200 in the trash? According to the National Resources Defense Council, that is the average cost of the food that each American throws away every year.
It adds up to about $165 billion worth of food or about 40 percent of the food we buy to consume! That translates to about 20 pounds of food per person per month. On a worldwide scale, each year we waste almost the amount of food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (222 million vs. 230 million tons). These are just a few of the statistics offered by the council’s study.
Another recent report by the World Resources Institute says about one-third of all food produced worldwide — worth around $1 trillion — gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. In calories, this means that about one in four calories intended for consumption never actually gets eaten.
It is astounding to think that now 40 percent of our landfills, or about 60 million tons, is organic waste, the second highest component in the landfills and the largest source of methane gas emissions. According to the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, when food waste decomposes in a landfill and generates methane, the potent greenhouse gas has 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.
All these national and global statistics make me wonder about the food waste in Fairbanks. I know our local food bank captures tons of food and gives it to people in need. I also know that food banks all across the nation do the same thing and yet the statistics on food waste nationally are disturbing.
What can we do to turn the tide? Compost whenever you can. Methane isn’t produced in the same way in a compost pile as in a landfill. If one could wish, it would be great to wish for a plant here in Fairbanks where food waste could be turned into renewable energy through anaerobic digestion, where methane emissions are captured to produce biogas, heat and energy.
On a more pragmatic level, we could each take a look at personal responsibility. We buy more food than we can use and our restaurants serve more food than we can eat. I had the pleasure of dining with a friend the other night and we shared one of the orders. My husband and I don’t have an opportunity to eat out very often, but when we do, we often save some of the meal for lunch the next day.
There is actually an organization with a food waste campaign called the Think. Eat. Save. Reduce Your Foodprint. They suggest the following:
Think. Be a smart shopper and think about what you are buying and when it will be eaten. Wasting food is often a subconscious act — become aware of how much food you throw away. Plan meals and use shopping lists.
Eat. Become a more mindful eater. Eyes bigger than your stomach? Request smaller portions and become a leftovers guru. Bring your leftovers home from restaurants in reusable containers.
Save. Save your food, save your money and save the environment. Donate to food banks and become a conscious consumer.
We could start thinking like great chefs — think of food as money. “Chefs do this every day in their kitchens, using culinary technique to transform ‘lowly’ ingredients into something delicious because it doesn’t make sense — economically or ecologically — to throw them out,” said Dan Barber, co-owner and executive chef at Blue Hill Farm and a leader in the sustainable food movement. “That’s the real power of good cooking, and it’s at the root of the world’s great peasant cuisines.”
If you know you are not going to be able to use something, freeze it, ferment it or dry it. It is amazing what you can dry and put on the shelf for later. Try fermenting some of those vegetables. They will last a long time fermented. Cooperative Extension is sponsoring a lecture by fermenting guru Sandor Katz at 6 p.m. Aug. 17 in the UAF Murie Auditorium. We also have publications on drying foods and freezing them.
If you want more ideas, one of the staff scientists from the Natural Resources Defense Council will release a book soon called, “The Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook.” Might be an interesting read.
Marsha Munsell is a health, home and family development program assistant for the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Contact her at 907-474-5414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.