Unless you’ve been living completely off the grid, there’s a good chance you’re aware of the world’s massive food waste problem. Maybe you saw something on social media, on the news, or heard about it from an eco-conscious friend or family member. If this is the first time you’re hearing about the food waste problem, the gist is that especially in developed nations like the United States, we throw out a lot of the food we grow, produce, buy, and prepare.
And by a lot, I mean A LOT. It’s estimated that America wastes roughly 40 percent of its food.
Even if you were aware of the food waste problem, I’d be surprised if that statistic didn’t make you pause. It sure made me stop and think when I first read it! And that’s why this week, I’m diving into the food waste problem and creating my first HAPPY GUT® Guide to Zero-Waste Eating.
The Truth About The Food Waste Problem
Finding out that we waste 40 percent of our food can be shocking all by itself. But then add the fact that that equates to about 150 billion pounds of perfectly edible food going to waste every year, and the scale of the issue really comes into view. America’s food waste costs us more than 200 billion dollars per year. Ouch, right?
Now, I know many of you are wondering how we got here. Why do we waste so much food in the first place? Food gets wasted for a lot of reasons and it’s lost at every step in the supply chain, from the farm all the way to our plates. Some of the sources of food waste are under our control and others aren’t. Factors like bad weather, processing problems, and unstable food markets aren’t something that can really be influenced by any individual. But other causes of food waste absolutely can. For example:
- Poor planning
- Confusion over labels and safety
- Lack of education on how to use different parts of food products to minimize waste
The problem of food waste doesn’t just end with piles of nutritious, uneaten food either. It also affects our planet, putting a strain on our water and land supply and leading to unnecessary carbon emissions. Food waste is also a moral issue. Recent statistics report that about 12 percent of homes in America are considered “food insecure,” which means that households don’t always know if they will be able to put food on the table in the coming days and weeks.
The Zero-Waste Movement
By collectively working to reduce food waste, we can help the planet and our communities. And the truth is, the zero-waste movement is already in full swing! Here are just a few examples of food waste programs and organizations that have inspired me:
- A San Francisco-based app called Too Good To Go, allows you to order food at a discounted price that would otherwise go to waste
- A company called Culinary Misfits hunts down the ugly vegetables at grocery stores, farmers markets, and restaurants and turns them into delectable dishes at the events they cater in Berlin, Germany
- In Washington DC, DC Central Kitchen provided almost 2 million meals to those in need in the DC area from the 816,000 pounds of food the organization recovered in 2011.
My foodie friend Justin Horne is a chef and the founder of the first zero-waste restaurant in London that aims to use thoughtful dining to tackle the food waste problem. He’s spoken at the United Nations summit about food waste and believes that the key to reducing food waste is to celebrate food. “We want to educate, inspire and also have some fun in exploring this new approach to food,” he said in a recent interview. It’s all about trying to “change people’s perception of what waste is, then we can change out how much waste we create,” he added.
How to Reduce Food Waste in Your Kitchen
If you feel passionately about reducing food waste, the good news is that there are a ton of great ways to get involved in the zero waste movement. You can volunteer at a local zero-waste organization. (If you want to look up options in your state, here’s a list!) That said, the best way to encourage larger societal changes is to start with ourselves and what we do in our everyday lives.
You can make zero-waste eating possible by following the eight tips below.
8 Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste in Your Kitchen
1. Save those veggie tops
You know when you’re making something in the kitchen, and you have a huge pile of veggie tops on your counter? Most of us throw them in the trash or compost them, but an even better idea is to put them on the stove and make them into a broth. For example, here’s how to make a Carrot Tops Vegetable Broth (but you can use pretty much any vegetable). The final product will be a soothing, nutrient-rich broth that makes the most out of your vegetable leftovers.
2. Plan ahead
I’m a big fan of making a shopping list for the week ahead and going to the grocery store with a plan. Or ordering grocery delivery (hey, I’m in Manhattan, and food deliverers go by bicycle or foot, so no carbon footprint here). These strategies can also reduce the amount of impulse buying you do, which can be great for your health, your wallet, and your waste. Want another hot tip? Organize your list into sections like “produce” and “freezer items” and “sauces” instead of making one big list that you have to read over to find things. Another option I love is creating a list on my smartphone, then checking off items as I put them in my cart. This will save you a ton of time when you’re at the store itself and make you less likely to forget something.
3. Get creative with smoothies
If you love making a morning or post-workout smoothie, one great way to reduce food waste is to get creative with your recipes. For example, if you have leftover cauliflower, you can freeze that and add it to your smoothie for a low-sugar way to bulk up the texture. For that matter, freeze any vegetables that you know will go bad before you have time to cook them fresh. The same goes for other veggies (like zucchini, carrots, or ginger root) that you might not think to put in your smoothie at first, but that can really bring the recipe to the next level. You can also add fresh herbs like mint, basil, or cilantro to your smoothie, since that’s a common item that we waste.
4. Grow your own produce
Speaking of wasting herbs, one great way to avoid that is to start growing your own. This way, you don’t have to buy a big package at one time that may go to waste before you use it all, and instead, you can just clip off what you need when you need it. You can do the same thing with vegetables! And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a ton of space to have your own luscious garden. Check out Tower Garden and other space-friendly growing options that you can grow indoors year-round.
If you’re not already composting, today is the day to start! Most cities and states have some sort of composting program, and once you get in the habit, it becomes second nature. Here’s a guide to composting at home. And one of the easiest ones to use is made by my favorite high-speed blender company — the Vitamix® FoodCycler® FC-50 — which conveniently turns your food scraps into fertilizer and reduces food waste, all while generating an odorless final product that will spare your garbage can from stinking up the kitchen.
6. Try fermenting extra veggies
If you’re going out of town and you’ve got a surplus of veggies in the fridge, that’s a great moment to try fermenting at home. Luckily, I wrote a guide to fermenting at home with my friend and fermentation expert Summer Bock. This is a great way to preserve your leftover veggies and show your gut some cultured love.
7. Get chilly!
Another good way to nip food waste in the bud is to buy frozen foods. Frozen fruits and veggies are just as healthy as the ones you find in the produce section (in fact, they might even be healthier in some ways since the freezing preserves some nutrients that would become depleted during transportation!). You can count on frozen foods to never go bad and always be there when you need them. This is my go-to strategy when I know I’ll be traveling a lot, but want to make sure I have veggies to steam or berries to throw in my smoothies when I return.
8. Make fresh herbal tea
One common source of food waste is herbs like mint and basil, but also roots like ginger and turmeric. Most recipes only require a small amount of these items, so what do you do with the rest? You can turn them into a fresh herbal tea. Just boil the water and add the leaf or root (peeled and chopped), cover, and allow to steep for about 10 minutes. Then, you can drain and serve the drink hot, or ice it for a refreshing iced herbal tea. Make a big batch and store it in a mason jar or pitcher in the fridge for fresh herbal tea whenever you need a sip.
Bonus: Simplify & Detox.
Speaking of zero waste, did you know I created my HAPPY GUT RESET: 7-Day Detox as a zero waste program? This week-long intensive program is designed to help you beat the bloat, break through a weight loss plateau, gain energy, and boost mental clarity… all while making delicious smoothies with a zero-waste shopping list.