Food Waste: The invisible monster to destroy
According to the FAO at global level we throw away about a third of the food we produce, without consuming. The topic became so critical that it has even been included in the UN’s Sustainable Development goals, which aim reducing significantly global food waste per capita by 2030. Because it is simply inconceivable that Europeans throw about 123 kg of food each year into the garbage, while there are almost 1 billion starving and undernourished people in the world. But you know what hurts the most? The fact that with the right measures and good practices applied at every link in the food chain, reinforced by awareness campaigns against waste, we may have saved about 97 kg from the dustbin which means the sufficient amount of food, that can save people from starving. Wouldn’t it be worth a try?
What do you mean by waste? How does it occur?
Food waste happens at three distinct stages of the food chain:
1) Food losses
Food loss/spoilage due to adverse weather conditions and/or the adoption of incorrect production methods: this happens mostly in developing countries when food is still in the fields.
2) Food waste
Food products that are discarded because they are unsold and/or out-of-date: this is most common in industrialized countries.
3) Domestic food waste
Food products wasted by the final consumer, who bought but did not consume them: here also, as in the second phase, the main responsibility belongs to us who lives in developed countries.
Wasting food only damages the wallet? Nothing could be more wrong!
Food waste causes considerable holes in the national as well as the family budget, but it is not just an economic factor: it is not just about a product that used to have a value, but now no longer has one.
The ramifications of the effects generated by food waste are much broader, capillary and involve issues that affect everyone, even those who have not yet been born.
At first glance it is not easy to understand how pouring half a bottle of milk into the sink because it has expired, can cause a strong environmental impact. And until we can look beyond our noses, unfortunately we will have no chance of winning the fight against the monster.
Wasting milk means also wasting water; energy; the labor force and capital with which it was possible to produce that good; we have polluted the air, groundwater and soil in vain.
Because environmental pollution is not only caused by heavy industry, but also by agriculture and intensive livestock farming, which are considered one of the main culprits. Moreover discarding a lettuce because some leaves are rotten, as the most normal thing of the world, causes other (never calculated) damages: spoiled food produces methane gas, which is 21 times more harmful to the ozone than CO2.
Reducing food waste by 20% in the United States alone, in 10 years, would mean a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions on an annual basis of 18 million tons: so, it is clear that wasting food means damaging also to the Planet and consequently to its future tenants.
What can we do to reduce domestic food waste?
On an individual level there are many things we can do to improve the tragic situation. It would be much more appropriate and useful if governments were to produce decisive actions such as awareness-raising campaigns, which are increasingly numerous and impactful, in order to inform the adult population; while for the younger ones, specific lessons could be promoted in schools. However, experience suggests that we should act without expecting the government to take action: let us take this responsibility ourselves, at least within our own walls. It may seem like a drop in the ocean, but it is not so, we must always think of ourselves as individuals, as atoms of a larger reality: it is not an idea of mine, it is an absolute necessity!
A) Avoid impulsive purchasing
To do this, we must only go shopping if we have a well thought-out list. Especially supermarkets are full of pitfalls to make you consume more than you need; they are artfully constructed places to serve as traps for the consumer: long corridors full of strategically well-lit merchandise, huge trolleys to make you feel “inferior” in case of a few purchases; the maze-like layout of the engineered spaces which let you see the sunlight only at the end of the tour of all aisles; the “tactical” marketing actions such as degustation, so you can not easily refuse to buy (for kindness and / or gluttony); the advantageous prices “only if you buy for a regiment” which make you forget that you’re only two at home; the famous “buy 3 for 2” promotions, and many other initiatives.
So to avoid buying more than you need, either have a determination made of steel or stick to your shopping list swearing eternal loyalty.
B) Become more neat and tidy
Making a well-targeted list means above all knowing and/or seeing what we already have at home. It seems obvious, but I’m sure we’ve all found duplicates in the pantry. So let us implement the strategies used by the industry for storage control.
Our stocks need to be monitored regularly and placed intelligently: let’s put recent purchases further back and move the older ones forward. This rule, known as FIRST IN – FIRST OUT!, is the basis of every respectable warehouse.
Make sure that you store your supplies in cupboards, lockers, cabinets, etc., at a height (or within reach) of your eyes; and that you keep the order, even in the fridge. The more obsessive can even prepare lists to be deleted as the products are consumed; fixing them on the doors of each cabinet in the pantry, in this way you will know where to look for a certain product, without wasting too much time or sweat. However, with or without this list, the simple trick of moving food according to expiry date, will allow us to reduce waste considerably.
C) Read food labels well
This negligence costs us a lot of money: many people throw away food that is still perfectly edible because they misunderstand the information on the label; or they do not pay attention to read it at the time of purchase; the expiry date is over, or the correct way of conservation is not respected (everything is always well described on food labels).
The expiry date of the food varies from product to product and so do the specific warnings. We have these indications that are not exactly new, but still confusing for the consumer: in particular “use by” and “best by”. The first one covers the whole range of easily perishable foods such as fresh meat, fresh fish and fish products, fresh milk, by-products, etc. The expiry date is mandatory as their consumption after that date could cause a health hazard to consumers. The second term, on the other hand, covers all other food products such as vinegar, pasta, coffee, honey, tomato paste, yoghurt, hard cheeses, jams, pickles, vegetables in oil and so on: after this date their consumption does not create a health hazard, but the quality and the organoleptic characteristics are threatened; of course, to consume them after the recommended date you should be sure that the packaging is intact and the product is stored according to the requirements. Too many times we throw away a pack of coffee or rice that is still perfectly edible; only by keeping an eye on these words and numbers we can reduce domestic food waste by 10%.
D) Learn how to recycle food
Adopt the same tricks as they do in the food industry: in the food sector, nothing is thrown out which can help to reduce costs. So we need to learn from the ‘best’: if fruit is not aesthetically suitable for sale, we make juices, jams or ice cream etc.; if tomatoes are too ripe, we produce pureed or concentrated tomatoes; the leftovers from the vegetable sector become traditional or “velvety”, “creamy” soups – both fresh or frozen; and of course also vegetarian or vegan meals as well as vegetable bouillon cubes. Moreover, residues from fish sector can enrich fish sauces and ready meals (fresh or frozen); or they can be transformed into fish croquettes, crab claws or surimi. Scraps from the poultry sector become tasty meatballs or crispy nuggets and ‘fit’ salami (chicken and turkey are considered healthier than red meat). Of course, remains of red meat and pork, which can no longer be sold as fresh meat, become mortadellas, cooked hams, salami, sausages, frankfurters, kebab or meatballs, meatloaves and meat sauces like ragù and of course meat bouillons.
My advice is to avoid buying these industrial foods: if you cannot identify with your eyes the content of the fork you are bringing to your mouth, it is better to skip it.
But if we are the ones who make these mixtures, there is nothing to fear; on the contrary, only to gain. Use your imagination or if you lack fantasy, imitate food advertising.
E) Learn how to preserve food
The most practical methods that we can also adopt in the home are concentration and drying, fermentation, refrigeration and freezing, preserving food with the use of salt, sugar, oil or vinegar. Some of these methods can be complicated, expensive, caloric or unhealthy and even unethical, so we always keep in mind that the best solution to overcome waste is simply to buy less food.
F) Pay more attention to where we store food
Cold storage is optimal for most perishable foods but we cannot extend it to everything. For example, we need to know that low temperatures can quickly spoil potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers and onions, so the best solution is to store them at room temperature. It’s right not to waste plastic, so it’s okay to use a single bag to buy fruit and vegetables, but we must not misinterpret the noble gesture by leaving all kinds of fruits and vegs in the same bag when we store them in the fridge. When I was talking about avocados, I explained the characteristic of some types of fruit called climacteric, which release a considerable amount of ethylene during ripening; some climacteric fruits are bananas, avocados, tomatoes, melons, peaches, pears, onions: avoid keeping them closed in a plastic bag and / or keep them together with other fruits and vegetables, you will greatly reduce your fruit and vegetable waste.
G) Study how to use better the space in the fridge
The title must not be misleading, so do not cram the food in every square centimeter of the fridge: the air must circulate freely so as not to stagnate, with the risk of creating humidity and temperature differences even on the same shelf. Also use suitable containers to store leftovers: glass, porcelain and even plastic without BPA, are good for most leftovers from the day before; however, remember that metal containers are not suitable for foods with high acidity, such as tomato, vinegar, lemon, yogurt, etc.. A good part of the leftovers stored for too long end up in the garbage anyway; if you don’t plan to eat them the next day, put them in the freezer. The vast majority of people have refrigerators equipped with freezers, let’s not use these great resources only to produce ice or preserve vodka; let’s use them instead to give another chance to food at the end of its life: through a few processes such as cleaning, washing and pre-cooking we will be able to create our ready-to-eat food to be used in the following days or weeks. Of course, if you freeze, you risk losing some of the important nutrients, but it is still better than losing everything. And to avoid reducing storage capacity and freezing efficiency, get reusable bags: you will gain in volume compared to containers.
H) Please be less perfectionist
When we choose the perfect fruit or vegetable, we help generating food waste. Sellers who know that we won’t prefer that apple with black points on it won’t buy them from producers, so they throw away the imperfect food while still in the field. If we all start buying with lower aesthetic expectations, we can make things work better.
Finally, buy food consciously that is close to its expire-date: they are usually promoted by the supermarket with lowered prices of 30-50%, which allows you to save money and thereby encouraging what is a civic duty, i.e. to reduce waste; in many cases you could freeze the food in question and thus interrupt its expiration date.
… And never forget that by winning the war against waste, we will be closer to the Revolution than ever before!
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