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Avoiding Food Waste

Most environmentalists will tell you that food waste is one the leading contributors to climate change. Not necessarily the food itself, but the fact that it’s the item most excessively thrown into landfills. Think spoiled leftovers, rotten fruits or veggies or unopened/half eaten foods from a lunchbox. So what can we do? A few ideas from home:

Get organized, whatever that means for you. Hannah has some great ideas in her post on the topic. Meal plan, take stock of what you have, use it before you lose it. That kind of thing. I like to keep a running list on my refrigerator door so items don’t get lost in the shuffle. The type-A aspect of me loves crossing-out the options as they get eaten and waste is prevented. Others like to keep an “eat me first” bin for fruits or veggies that are closing to spoiling. Find a do-able system and stick with it. Obviously meal planning helps too, because then there’s a time and place for each piece of food purchased and you’re not left wondering what to do with that random stalk of broccoli (this actually happened to me yesterday and I made soup with it) or chicken breast. For us, we take our leftovers for lunch each day and have a pretty static list of the fruits and veggies my kids bring for school snack. Saves the guess work of thinking about what to make and pack each day.

Be flexible about “best by” dates: Admittedly, this one has been harder for me to adopt and I’m willing to bet that my husband still doesn’t love it (though I was proven wrong last night when he trusted me and took a chance!). I used to have a “when in doubt, throw it out” rule and truthfully still adhere to that for most meat dishes. However other items have more wiggle room. Most yogurts will be fine after the date on the container. Not talking months, but definitely a few weeks. Same for milk, packaged snacks etc. Use the smell test. I think you’ll find that most things are safe enough to eat and less waste ensues. A little less rigidity goes a long way.

Speak-Up, Advocate and Use the Power of Your Vote and Dollar: As I shared on Friday, organizations have the power to make huge differences. Hannaford is working to drive all of its leftover food towards composting rather than the landfill. New Hampshire is also working to pack-up leftover food to send home with kids for the the weekend. Schools are using “forecasting” to decide what to serve based on the items most likely to be eaten, and I love this idea of a “share cart” in Nashua schools (see article). I was a kid once and remember throwing away whole un-opened yogurts etc. Of course I cringe at that thought now, but would’ve definitely placed that yogurt on a share cart instead. Covid and staffing issues present complications, but I will start talking about these ideas with people in the community and recommend you do as well. It never hurts to ask and start a conversation.

I’ll also throw in my usual compost recommendation. Sometimes food goes bad, no matter how hard we try. We’re human, after all. So if you have some rotten fruit etc, throw it into the compost. New to composting? We have a quick tutorial on the site. It’s a lot easier and less time consuming than it first appears.

Lastly, Mark Bittman has a new book about food choices and how they affect various factors, including climate change. It seems like a follow-up to Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, and is on my to-read list. Have you read Animal, Vegetable, Junk? If so, what did you think? – Rachel

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