Before we discuss how to prevent food waste, imagine this. You spend a long day shopping and max out a credit card or two. You arrive home, exhausted after a day of fitting rooms and pushy salespeople—and now you’re feeling lazy or distracted and can’t even fathom wearing your new blazer or ankle boots. What’s next? You grab a pair of scissors, chop every piece of newly bought clothing up and stuff it in the rubbish bin.
This sounds ludacris but is actually the same attitude we seem to have towards food.
In the U.S., 40% of the food that’s produced goes uneaten. If food waste were a country, it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases. These facts are sad, upsetting, and utterly insane. Yet I know all too well how easy it is for food to skip my belly and go straight to the rubbish bag.
In a world of “Buy 2 Get 1 Free,” food delivery that’s easy as a click of a button, over-the-top dinner parties, lost veggies in the back of the refrigerator, expiration dates, and canceled cooking plans that seem too ambitious, excessive food waste has become a norm in most households.
The silver lining is that there are many ways we can do better when it comes to food waste—and most of them are pretty easy.
Save the earth by saving your food.
How to Prevent Food Waste: 8 Top Tips
1. Hold yourself accountable: Are you a clean plater or a food waster? The best first step is to determine how much food you’re wasting and the types of food that are problematic. Are you a cereal-so-stale-it-goes-mushy type? Or someone constantly burdened by a produce drawer full of indistinguishable fuzz? Spend a month or so examining your food consumption. Then, pick out the most problematic types of food and slowly shift away from choosing them.
2. Consider the embedded value of what you put in your mouth: I understand the ravaging hunger experienced at the end of a long work day—the all-consuming need for satiation that results in a large order of McDonalds fries being consumed in under 60 seconds. While eating may not be your source of existential pondering, try, just try, to give it a little thought.
You know that sandwich you’re eating? The grain probably grew in a monocropped field totally reliant on petrochemicals and insane amounts of water. The tomatoes were most likely grown by a migrant worker who slaves away in the sun for 16 hours a day and below minimum wage pay. The mayonnaise? It contains the eggs of factory-farmed chicken and an array of chemicals sourced from all around the world. To throw away even half of your meal means that all of these resources—human and otherwise—are wasted.
3. Be a smart shopper: Grocery shopping for some (speaking out of personal experience) is an enjoyable experience. You get to stroll down the aisles daydreaming about delicious meals and indulgent snacks. But it needs to be a thoughtful experience instead. Before heading to your local Whole Foods (and while you’re not hungry), make a list, and stick to it. Be disciplined about what you buy and how much. If it’s easy for you to do so, do multiple smaller trips each week (more tips for sustainable food shopping here).
4. Cook more often: This may seem counterintuitive but cooking for yourself means that you’re more aware of what you have in the fridge or pantry, what you need to buy each time you shop, and what foods you have a preference for. Plan each meal so that you know exactly what needs to be purchased. Plus, DIY cooking means that you’ll reduce the amount of packaging you purchase and you’ll probably be eating healthier as a result.
“Want to be healthy? Cook! The food industry has done a great job convincing eaters that corporations can cook better than we can. The problem is, it’s not true.”
– Michael Pollan
5. Cook smarter: Avoid allowing your eyes to be bigger than your stomach. Don’t dump in the whole bag of pasta if it’s just you. Similarly, choose items that better suit you and your needs. Don’t shop at Costco if you’re not a family of ten. If you’re planning date night, you probably don’t need a cart full of food. If a dinner party is on your schedule, realize that your friends and family will still love you—even if you don’t serve a ten-course meal with dessert.
6. Store food properly: Google is your best friend when it comes to this step. If you’re unsure of how to store something for maximum longevity, spend the 30 seconds to figure out what works best. Some of the tricks available online can keep your food fresher for days—or even months. Remember that not all produce needs to be refrigerated and some things do better out of direct sunlight. Each food item has a best-practice for lasting longer, become more familiar with them.
7. Become a leftover lover: Yeah, leftovers aren’t exactly everyone’s favorite meal. But you can definitely make them more appealing. You can force yourself to eat them by taking them to work for lunch (you’ll be so hungry by the time your break comes around that leftover pasta will taste like something out of a 5-star restaurant). You can also freeze them until the meal sounds appealing again. You can even spice leftovers up by adding a few new ingredients (seasonings, broth, soy sauce, salsa, sour cream, potatoes, nuts, seeds, cheese, eggs, crushed totrilla chips… the list goes on!)
8. Step up your composting game: With an increased awareness of food waste, the market is awash with composting systems perfect for everyone. From Bokashi buckets for small apartments to massive high-tech bins, there’s something for everyone. Composting is simple and rewarding—it doesn’t produce methane and can provide you with a nutrient-rich fertilizer.
Final Thoughts on How to Prevent Food Waste
Knowing how to prevent food waste is one of the quickest and easiest (and most delicious) ways of reducing your ecological footprint. So what are you waiting for?! Try one of these steps today! If there are any helpful tips I missed, let me know in the comments!