This is a guest post by Maria Ramos. Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.
(The recipe section of this article originally appeared on the Thrifty Tips page of The Earthling’s Handbook, and it will be updated as we have new food-saving ideas!)
Most of the current focus on environmental harm has been on the effects of pollution generated through industrial processes, but there’s another type of human activity that probably hits a lot closer to home for most people: food waste. Discarded food often ends up rotting in landfills, emitting greenhouse gases as it decomposes. Moreover, all the resources–fertilizer, water, energy, and labor–that go into the production of wasted food have also essentially been wasted at this point and could be better utilized.
It’s estimated that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year. In the United States alone, as much as 40 percent of the food we purchase ends up being thrown away. About a third of all food produced worldwide is either thrown out or destroyed before it is eaten–a loss of a whopping $1 trillion in foodstuffs. With the world population expected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, it’s important that we work to counteract this profligacy and misuse of our nutritional resources, or many may face hunger and starvation.
There’s a dichotomy in the way food is wasted between the developing world and the developed world. In poorer countries, much of the crop that’s harvested each year languishes until it’s not fit for human consumption. Poor refrigeration techniques, lack of appropriate pesticides, and inadequate transportation infrastructure all contribute to the spoilage of food before it ever gets to market. In richer countries, the problem is different: Food gets to stores, warehouses, and customers’ homes just fine, but much of it is thrown out post-purchase because the expiry date passes, people discard their leftovers, or individuals simply fail to eat everything they have bought. People buy not only what they actually eat but also an additional amount that might not ever even be removed from the packaging.
In areas without proper refrigeration, new solutions like India’s solar Promethean Power Systems and biogas-powered cooling equipment may allow for efficient cooling performance without fossil fuel usage and the resultant pollution. Proper storage techniques are also critical. Several different types of bags are being developed that promote freshness through a carefully created mixture of gases. Items stored in these containers will decay at a rate much slower than that of foodstuffs that are left out in the open, and some of the bags even combat insect infestation by keeping the oxygen concentration of air inside the bags low.
In the developed world, we can adjust the way we buy and use food to get the most out of our food supply. First, only buy what you’re actually going to eat! Some stores even provide you with an option to fill your own reusable containers with the exact amount you want. It’s important, after bringing groceries home, to make sure they’re properly stored to extend their useful life. Freezing, canning, pickling, composting, saving leftovers, and donating are all ways of getting use out of food that would otherwise be thrown out. Here are some techniques for making the most of odd bits of food:
- Fruit Sauce for yogurt, ice cream, or pancakes can be made even with fruit that’s slightly spoiled or has bites out of it.
- Pasta Prima Becca turns odds and ends of vegetables into a savory Italian meal.
- American Beanwich makes leftover beans taste like a cheeseburger!
- Tofu with Skizzled Vegetables even works with not-so-fresh tofu.
- 4 ways to use stale bread, including Cheesy Vegetable Bread Pudding which also uses bits of veggies and cheese! Here’s a photo tutorial for making your own breadcrumbs.
- Roast and eat cauliflower leaves instead of throwing them away! It works with broccoli leaves, too!
- Use the last jam in the jar to make fruit-flavored oatmeal.
- Turn your jack o’lantern into Pumpkin Burritos–which also can be made with sweet potatoes or winter squash.
- When your favorite vegetables are in season, make your own frozen vegetables.
- When you have surplus cheese, grate and freeze it for later use.
- During tomato season, make Roasted Tomatoes–they’re delicious and take up less freezer space than raw diced tomatoes.
- If you’ve peeled tomatoes for canning or sauce, make the skins into Penniless Parenting’s Tomato Basil Garlic Spice Blend.
- Turn citrus peels into candy or all-purpose cleaner, or try one of these many ways to use citrus peels or these 7 ways to use old citrus.
- Eat other fruit peels in Banana Peel Chutney, Watermelon Rind Curry, or Watermelon Rind Salad.
- If you accidentally froze some cucumbers, they’ll work fine in one of these cucumber salads.
- Katie’s 9 Ways to Cook with Garbage.
- 20 ways to use a half-cup of pumpkin.
- 8 ways to preserve bulk-purchased bell peppers.
- 8 ways to use the stems from Swiss chard.
- Harvest unwanted fruit! The Earthling’s Handbook family got 22 cups of pie apples from the trees alongside a neglected parking lot, and made desserts for the homeless as well as desserts and breakfasts for themselves.
- Use holiday leftovers in a spontaneous feast!
- Glean useful ingredients from the leftovers of a big reception or party.
- Learn flexible recipes that work with the specific ingredients you happen to have, like Flexican Cornbread Pizza and Tetrazzini and High-Protein Vegan Pasta Salad and Lemon Creamy Salmon with Tangy Greens.
- Turn to leftovers first when packing lunches for school, work, or picnics or making baby food.
- Use long-frozen cookie dough to make fruit dumplings.
- Salvage over-baked brownies.
- Use those last drops of cooking oil!
- Make potato peels into vegan “bacon”!
- Use these 5 strategies to make the most of summer produce.
- 24 ways to use Thanksgiving leftovers–not just turkey.
- Don’t stress about sell-by dates; use your senses to tell whether food has gone bad. Becca once drank 33-year-old grape juice!
Even technology has really stepped up its game in the form of mobile interfaces for getting information about extending food longevity and cooperating with others to improve the local food situation. Foodloop is a mobile app that matches unsold food from supermarkets with potential buyers who would be willing to buy it at low prices, while the FlashFood app connects perishable foods with those who need them.
Another new technology, the anaerobic digester, can convert food scraps into fertilizer while harvesting gases to produce renewable energy!
Besides saving a buck or two, there are many advantages to reducing food waste. The resources that currently go into growing crops that never see a dinner table could be redirected more efficiently, and those who are in marginal financial situations are able to better maintain their well-being when more food is available for human use. And most importantly, the environment won’t be as burdened by the harmful gases that are released when abandoned food is left to rot. Just as people have made the decision to use renewable energy providers to conserve energy and participate in various recycling programs as opposed to littering the streets, we must all make an effort to improve our record regarding food misuse, even if it’s just within our own households. Growing ecological concerns are making finding a solution to our worldwide issue with food waste more crucial than ever before.
Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Be Clean Be Green With Kids for more waste-prevention tips! Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop and Real Food Friday for more food-related articles! Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday and the Healthy Living Link Party for more great tips on many topics!