Solving Food Waste: Start at the Source

March 23, 2016

Did you know that in 2010 alone, Americans wasted almost 34 million tons of food (According to George Washington University)? That’s enough to fill the Empire State Building 91 times! That’s 16 percent more waste than the decade before.

Over the last few years I’ve been investigating food waste in America. When one connects the dots between wasted food and the number of people in our communities who face food insecurity, it’s especially overwhelming. Some of the food we waste is still edible, and some of it can be put to good use in other ways instead of filling up landfills. So when I hear statistics like this, I want to do something to help close the gaps.

In a previous post, I discussed the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy that helps prioritize ways to minimize food waste. The hierarchy suggests starting by reducing the amount of extra food grown in the first place. Preventing wasted food by only growing the amount of food we will use (the EPA calls this “source reduction”) is the most effective step we can take.

The easiest way individuals and food-related companies can help reduce food waste is to make a plan to buy only what we know we’ll use. Many dietitians already help people with menu planning, using leftovers and portion control for better health. So it’s important to help people understand that small steps like these can not only reduce their food budget and improve their health, but also can help their community and the environment.

Did you know that perfectly good food — in terms of taste, texture and nutritional value — is oftentimes thrown away before it makes it to grocery stores because it doesn’t conform to aesthetic standards? For example, for asparagus to be what the USDA considers highest quality, “not less than two-thirds of the length of the stalk shall be the color of the lot” or the highest grade of peach “shall have not less than one-third of its surface showing blushed, pink or red color.” If shoppers begin to accept that good foods don’t have to look perfect, farmers could still make a living while growing less, because a higher percentage of their crops would make it to stores. We can teach people how to use less beautiful, but still nutritious fruits and vegetables for canning, in pies or when making soups and stews.

We can help prevent food waste by raising awareness and educating people about changing behaviors, which can help both their health and the health of the environment. As you’ve heard me say previously, and I hope that others start saying it, too, food waste is a global problem, but change starts at home and individuals can make a difference.


This is the second post in a six-part series. Click below for the other posts in this series: