Choose foods that result in less landfill waste, packaging, and energy.

Almost half of all food is thrown out

2004 study, from the University of Arizona, found that almost half of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten. The average family of four throws out $600 worth of good food every year, including 14 percent that hasn’t expired or even been unpackaged.

“We’ve lost touch with food,” says Timothy Jones, the author of the study. “People are totally unaware of food; it’s true of everybody from the citrus industry to the person who takes a plate of spaghetti and meatballs they could have kept and instead throw it away.”

According to Jones, Americans believe in the myth that food is cheap and plentiful. But he argued it’s not cheap considering the labour and effort taken to grow it, and the costs of fuel to harvest and bring it to market. He also argued that there are no easily used lands left for new farms, and there are environmental costs from depleting soils and soil erosion that comes with intensive farming.

The study also found that large fast-food chains waste 10 percent of their food, but were more efficient than smaller chains where up to 50 percent of food was discarded. This high loss was likely due to novice managers ordering too much food and misjudging how many customers they would have.

Jones said the food industry has made strides in storing and transporting fresh produce from the farm to the store. But he said that, at the farm level, the waste involved in putting together pre-prepared salads and sliced carrots has boosted produce losses from 3 percent to 10 percent.

Freegans

People who rescue food that is being discarded are called freegans. The practice is commonly nicknamed “dumpster diving” in North America or “skipping” in the U.K. Freegans say they find ample amounts of clean, edible food in the garbage of restaurants, grocery stores, and other food-related industries, and this allows them to avoid spending money on products that exploit resources, workers and animals. They also prevent edible food from contributing to landfills. Freegans are often vegan, but a related term, “meagan” is used for those to eat discarded meat.

See Freeganism at Wikipedia,freegan.info and an ABC report called Dumpster Diving for Food

How to reduce food wastage

There is a huge opportunity to reduce wastage by adjusting shopping, storage and eating habits. For example, eating leftovers is a great way to reduce the amount of garbage that ends up being trucked to landfill sites. Reheating and adding some fresh ingredients can jazz up yesterday’s meal.

When shopping for food, only buy what you know you will be using in the near future. Sharing can be a good way to use foods quickly and efficiently, but if you are only buying food for yourself, consider buying smaller amounts and doing things like freezing half of a loaf of bread, while you eat the other half.

Another option is to buy foods that need to be used up soon. Not always the tastiest choice, but an excellent way to rescue foods from being thrown out, while at the same time saving money. The trick is to be creative: bruised apples can be turned into delicious applesauce, and veggies that are past their prime make fine ingredients for a big soup.

You can also feed your leftovers to the worms. Composting is a great way to return your peels, trimming and spoiled food back to the Earth.

Also see Tips on finding and storing fresh whole foods.

How to reduce packaging

Buy foods that require little or no packaging, such as whole fruits, vegetables, and bulk dry goods. Also look for items with reduced packaging such as breakfast cereal that comes in a bag instead of a box and inner liner. Natural food stores are good places to shop. For foods packaged in plastic, check that the container is recyclable (often only number 1 or 2 are accepted).

When shopping or picking up dinner, consider bringing your own bags and containers. Even when dining out, it is handy to have a container along for leftovers.

NOW Magazine’s 2006 Earth Day issue has a repont on which take-out places will allow you to bring your own containers called Wrap Attack. Not surprisingly, the big chains such as McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s were most resistant.

Saving energy in the kitchen

Choose foods that don’t need a lot of refrigerating and freezing. Whole foods are excellent choices.

Warm weather is a good time for eating meals that require less cooking. In winter, cooking your food will contribute to heating your home.

If you have a frozen meal to reheat, consider first letting it thaw out in the refrigerator. Also let hot cooked foods cool off completely before refrigerating.

A quick cooling tip is to place a warm pot of food in the sink and surround with cold water. Water draws heat out much faster than air.