Last week, a clip from former Daily Show contributor John Oliver's new show Last Week Tonight was making the rounds on social media and various blogs. This time, Oliver teed up America's staggering food waste. Turns out that Americans, in true American fashion, waste about $165 billion worth or enough to fill 730 football stadiums annually. At the same time 50 million Americans live in what are called food insecure households.
So I called up NUVO friend and program manager on the Indy Food Council Whitney Fields to give me some tips on how we Hoosiers can reduce food waste in our own homes.
"Think about your eating habits, and reflect on them. Think about eating more local food," is a good place to start, says Fields. As Oliver's video points out, one of the psychological tricks of grocery stores is overstocking the shelves. We, in turn, buy more food than we normally would, and the store throws more away. Shopping at your local farmers market means you'll get a smaller selection with a lot more in-season produce that has traveled much shorter distances than most of your grocery store foods.
"Only buy things you know you're going to cook and eat. If you buy something and you don't know how to prepare it, that creates food waste in your home.
"It's really easy to compost in your own home.
"If you don't want to give up the space to make a compost pile, Earth Mama Compost is great. It's so easy and no-hassle," says Fields. Earth Mama is a local, fabulous composting pickup service. They give you a bucket and a liner, you fill it with your food waste, and they pick it up and empty it, all for about ten bucks per month.
You can also go to the store a little more often, if you have the time, though Fields acknowledges this isn't possible for most people. However, getting out of the infrequent "stocking up" trips to the grocery store may help prevent food waste.
"At first, if you're used to going to the grocery store once a month, going twice a week might seem like a burden. But if you can make it part of your daily habit — 'this day I'm going to the gym and this day I go to the grocery store' — it'll get easier," says Fields.
You can also save some food by taking the time to do a little meal planning and prep. "Set aside a half-day, like a Sunday, and prepare your meals for the week." If you hate the idea of portioning out meals for the week, keep them in big containers and treat your fridge like a leftovers buffet.
Being realistic about what you cook and eat means the end of the aspirational vegetable purchases. We've all done it: the rationale being that the obvious barrier stopping you from eating tons of broccoli and kale in the past is just not having enough of it around. If you're trying to learn to eat healthier and prepare veggies better, spend some time reading cookbooks and prepare three good, cookbook-approved batches of food for yourself. Before you decide that it's not enough food for the week, try filling your plate with less food at each meal and only go back for seconds until you're full.
Most important, though, is just keeping food out of landfills. "Food waste, when it's put in a landfill, produces huge amounts of methane gas," says Fields. The anaerobic bacteria (the ones that function in the oxygen-free environment created in landfills) break down the biomass and create the greenhouse gas as a by-product of the breakdown. Aerobic bacteria (the good, oxygen-breathing guys in your compost pile) break down this biomass into plant nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and magnesium, and creates carbon dioxide instead of methane, which can be used by plants to make more oxygen.
Bottom line? "Reduce your food waste, and compost whatever you do throw out." That's Fields' recommendation for anyone who wants to know how they can help lower that number of football stadiums full of wasted food down into at least the 500s.
Whitney's tips for reducing food waste
Buy Local — Farmers markets produce less waste overall, and the food travels much shorter distances. The money stays in our local economy, and less greenhouse gases go into the atmosphere.
Be Realistic — Only buy and cook things that you enjoy and will actually look forward to eating. Buy only what you really need, stick to a prepared list, and no impulse shopping.
Shop more frequently (if you have time) — Buy what you need a few days at a time. You may be surprised at how little food you actually need to sustain yourself on a healthy diet. Easy on the wallet, too.
Compost what you throw out — Whether you do it through a professional like Earth Mama or do it yourself, composting turns food waste into carbon dioxide and plant nutrients instead of the greenhouse gas methane. Keeping your food waste out of landfills helps keep our planet a little cooler.
Easiest composting: Earth Mama composting service. It doesn't get much easier than this, with a pickup service that takes your household food waste and turns it into the nutritious soil our urban gardens need. This is also a great solution for those of you living in high-rises. Check out how to sign up at earthmamacompost.com.
Home composting 101: Want to know composting inside and out? We've tracked down a comprehensive guide to both hot and cool composting written by Purdue agronomists and landscape architects. It's an easy-to-follow overview of how to start composting in your own home, with a variety of techniques based on how much time and space you have. Check it out HERE