By: Tim Hauber
In previous articles, I have written about the importance of growing our own food as individuals and as a nation. I still firmly believe that this is something we must continue pursuing and developing; however, today, I want to look at a different but related problem, Food Waste.
The amount of food wasted daily by our current globalized food system is shocking. We are wasting vast amounts of food, which comes at a price economically and environmentally. When we consider the amount of debt most individuals, as well as our nation, currently carries, I think we can all agree that any amount of waste should be eliminated simply on the basis of economics; however, when we dig in and understand that this food waste is directly contributing to global environmental destruction, we can no longer sit back and allow this problem to continue.
What is Food Waste? For the purpose of this article, I will refer to food waste as all food that is grown but never eaten. The USDA estimates that 30-40% of food that is grown in the USA is never eaten. According to the website, Our World in Data, this figure is fairly consistent with other developed countries around the globe, including The Bahamas.
This means that 1/3 of all the food we work so hard to grow is never eaten! For me personally, as a farmer, this number is hurtful. Imagine that at the end of your day or year, you take 1/3 of everything you have accomplished and destroy it or negate it. It is shocking and almost unheard of in so many other fields of business, yet it occurs daily in the food industry.
Where does Food Wastage Occur?
This wastage occurs at five major points of the process: the farm, food processing, food service, retail, and home.
The first step where food waste happens is on the farm; in fact, this is where 15% of the total food waste occurs. Often, perfectly good crops are rejected due to them not meeting arbitrary cosmetic specifications put in place by marketing boards or grocery stores.
We as consumers need to find ways to vocalize that we do not mind eating a banana that does not have the perfect angle or a tomato that is a bit smaller than normal. As a farmer, I have personally thrown out thousands of pounds of tomatoes and peppers in Nassau that I could not sell because the grocery store insisted on a specific minimum size. Yet these same tomatoes and peppers would sell like hotcakes at the local farmers market or to local chefs.
The next step where 15% of food wastage occurs is during food processing. Many of our modern food processing factories have significant waste streams from trimming and by-products. These excess items are still very edible but not the main money maker for the factory, so they are discarded.
20% of food wastage occurs in retail shops and food service establishments.
Retailers, particularly in The Bahamas, where we import most of our fresh produce, face a daily struggle of managing inventories in such a way that keeps products constantly stocked but minimizes spoilage. As consumers, we can help with this problem by buying products that might not look perfect or by purchasing items from the ‘reduced’ rack in the produce aisle.
One factor causing a lot of good food to be wasted is the ‘best before date’ listed on many foods. This date is not related to food safety but is merely a suggestion regarding the date of peak flavor. It is estimated that up to 50% of food wastage in retail shops is related to this best-before date, even though it is not a food safety issue.
A lot of food is wasted in grocery stores, but way more, in fact, triple to be exact, is wasted in restaurants and food service operations. Some of this can be attributed to restaurants cooking more food than they can manage to sell on any particular day, but the majority of the wastage happens when you and I leave food on the plate to be discarded. 70% of food wastage in restaurants is due to us ordering more than we need or can actually eat.
We have become accustomed to seeing huge portions of food served to us as normal, but I challenge you to order only what you know you can eat and then order more if you are still hungry. This is an easy way for all of us to reduce food wastage.
And finally, the biggest culprit for food wastage is our individual homes. It is estimated that 50% of all food waste happens right at home! Research suggests that in the US, approximately 229 billion dollars worth of food is wasted in households every year!
The good news is that food wastage is a problem we can quickly react to and take positive steps toward a solution. Here are six quick tips to get you started.
Shop strategically: Plan your menu for the week and only buy the necessary ingredients. You will reduce purchasing items that don’t get used and typically end up in the trash due to mold or rotting.
Understand date labels: Do your own research into the use of date labeling. Then, moving forward, you will throw out much less food due to an arbitrary best-before date.
Get Creative with Your Cooking
When you see something starting to wilt in your fridge, find a dish that you can incorporate it into before it spoils. You can fit almost any vegetable, including lettuce and leafy greens, into delicious soups and stews.
Become friends with your freezer: By freezing food items, you extend their shelf life by many months. For example, if you do not use the entire piece of meat or portions of baked goods in the first meal, consider immediately freezing the rest to be used at another time instead of tucking it into the back corner of your fridge to spoil over time.
Share with your neighbors: If you have a lot of any items, share them with your friends and neighbors. Some items are cheaper when you buy in bulk, but spoilage is inevitable if you cannot use perishables fast enough, so share them with your friends and family before they spoil.
Become Friends with Leftovers
It is very common to put leftovers in the fridge and forget about them until they become a nightmare of mold and rot. However, we have found in our home that if we pack dinner leftovers into single serving-sized containers and take these containers to work for lunch the next day, we not only eliminate food wastage but save lots of money from not buying lunch every day! We purchased some great glass containers with sealable lids just for this purpose that have served us well for many years.
We must also consider the broader implications. Food wastage contributes to food shortages and food insecurity for many people worldwide. While one-third of global food production is wasted, millions suffer from hunger and malnutrition, which is a travesty.
Food production also requires a considerable amount of energy related to the operation of machinery, transportation of goods, and refrigeration of perishables. When food is wasted, the energy used to produce it becomes wasted energy, contributing to unnecessary carbon emissions and resource depletion. This negatively impacts the environment and the planet while exacerbating global warming.
As the world changes around us and food production becomes more and more challenging due to our changing climate, we should all make an effort to reduce food wastage wherever possible.
Look carefully at how you shop, order food in restaurants, and especially how you handle food in your own home, and you will be able to positively impact this complicated problem. Remember that making small personal changes can lead to profound and lasting positive results globally.
About One Eleuthera Foundation
Founded in 2012, One Eleuthera Foundation is a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to transforming our local island communities into thriving, self-sufficient ecosystems. We do this by focusing on five key areas: economic ownership, meaningful educational advancement, pathways to wellness, and environmentally sustainable communities centered around our island’s unique cultural identity. We run a number of social enterprises, including CTI, our vocational school; the Retreat Hotel, a training hotel for hospitality students; and our farm and Cooling House, which trains future farmers in the best sustainability and food production practices. Through OEF’s consistent dedicated efforts, the tenacity and resourcefulness of our legacy community, and the support of donors and partners, we are creating change in Eleuthera.