How can we cut down on food waste?
A worldwide predicament that causes a significant negative impact on our environment and the wellbeing of less-privileged people is food wastage. The United States is the leading country involved in wasting food, with 103 million tons of food waste generated in 2018 only. In ten years’ time, it is expected that the US will waste up to 66 tons of food per second (Cooper, 2020). It’s no different in Malaysia as well, wherein in 2020, 41% of total waste was attributed to food waste (ZAINAL, 2021).
Where does Food Waste Come From?
Food waste could result from any place that provides food or manufactures it in some way or form. Considering how food is obtained from natural resources to your plate, supply chains and food manufacturers are perhaps where most avoidable food waste occurs. Cooper (2020) reports that 20% of fruits and vegetables are wasted in production, 12% in supermarkets, and 28% due to clients’ waste.
Another attribute to food waste is that we, as consumers, tend to avoid weird-looking produce that may not look perfectly round or have something sticking out of it. Grocery stores recognize this and thus, tend to avoid purchasing any misshapen or weird-looking food to prevent losses. That’s where the 12% of waste comes from. Not to mention, some tend to over-purchase from the grocery that ends up being wasted because the product is only beginning to spoil, over portioning on their plate, or they see that the expiry date has passed even though it’s still safe to eat (Cooper, 2020)
Although restaurants won’t mind outsourcing misshapen produce, they usually tend to give portions that some may not be able to finish, or they may garnish the plate with things that are not usually not supposed to be eaten directly, such as a sprig of rosemary. Customers also have a responsibility to know the approximate amount of food they can handle or request to remove things they don’t like in the dish. Alternatively, you can order it for takeaway and give it to someone that may like it or someone in need (Cooper, 2020).
Why is Learning About Food Wastage Important?
Food wastage can damage the environment in several ways. When food is rotting in a landfill, a gas called methane is released (Cooper, 2020). Methane is a greenhouse gas that is more poisonous than carbon dioxide and impacts climate and temperature (US EPA, 2021). People’s work to farm and ship the food to manufacturers and restaurants will also go to waste. From the effort that people have put in to grow, produce and package the food to the fuel the truck used to transport it, all of it is wasted when people decide to throw it away.
Not to mention that safe-to-eat foods that have gone to waste could have gone to those in need. When looking at the situation in the US, Feeding America reported that there are up to 38 million people, including children, who are food insecure. These numbers are from before the pandemic, where numbers have gone much higher (Feeding America, n.d.).
How Can You Reduce Food Waste at Home
Learning the facts about food waste and how it impacts our environment and less privileged people is necessary, especially to the younger generation in order for everyone to contribute to reducing waste. There are several ways that anyone could help to reduce waste.
Make a shopping list
When planning to buy groceries, check off what you have and what you need in approximate quantities. Using this method will prevent you from impulse buying or trying to guess what you already have.
First In, First Out (FIFO)
This is an organizational method that restaurants use to reduce waste, where newly purchased products are placed in the back while older products are brought to the front. The first or oldest food item you bought should be used as you restock.
Learn about the correct storage method
Food packages would usually indicate which environment is best suited to avoid spoilage. However, information about other foods like frozen meat or fresh produce is not well known. You can learn about them anywhere online, but the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has detailed guidelines on food storage, data on food waste, and toolkits to help anyone with reducing food waste.
Whether you’re plating your food or for someone younger or older, it’s important to put the right amount of food for that person. Children may also be picky about what’s in their food, so try to avoid giving them what they don’t like. Otherwise, it will end up in the trash. In addition, using bigger plates trick our minds and eyes into thinking that the amount is not enough. Try using a smaller plate or bowl when plating food next time if you’re the type of person that frequently uses a bigger plate.
Expiry dates could be false
While supermarkets use expiry dates to let them know when to change up the products on the shelf, most of the time, they give the consumers a false impression that the product has gone bad and should be thrown away. In fact, the FDA reports that 20% of food waste comes from “expired food.” Instead of relying on the expiry date, the smell, taste, and texture of the food will give you a clear sign to dispose of it.
There are a plethora of recipes you can find online that repurpose old leftovers that aren’t necessarily expired or have gotten rotten, like using a stale tortilla to make chips in the oven or using excess vegetables and bones from meat to make a stock. The chilled stock should be used within a couple of days, but frozen will last much longer.
(Best, 2017;Cooper, 2020; Kubala, 2019)
How is RAS Helping in Reducing Food Waste
The RAS community strongly advocates for reducing food waste as best as we can. Our professional team of chefs creates incredibly nutritious meals for students every day. They also plan the correct portion sizes accordingly for each type of nutrient while considering the age of our students. The community club CCA also spreads the message to students about food waste by creating campaigns and videos showcasing why it is important to reduce food waste.
Written by Jumana Raggam
Best, C. (2017, December 31). 25 ways to use up leftover ingredients. BBC Good Food. Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/25-ways-use-christmas-leftovers
Cooper, R. (2020, August 25). Food Waste in America: Facts and Statistics. Rubicon. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://www.rubicon.com/blog/food-waste-facts/
Feeding America. (n.d.). Hunger in America. Feeding America. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america
Kubala, J. (2019, December 16). 16 ways to reduce food waste at home, school, and more. Medical News Today. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327325#compost-scraps
US EPA. (2021, June 30). Importance of Methane | US EPA. US Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/gmi/importance-methane
ZAINAL, F. (2021, May 20). Daily food waste staggering. The Star. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2021/05/20/daily-food-waste-staggering