I was wasting much more than I thought

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Several years ago, I was watching the evening news while having dinner. As usual, most of the news was about things which matter the least in the grand scheme of things: a vandalized bus stop, people complaining about the weather, experts advising how much to tip in the upcoming holiday season, some celebrity getting a divorce and sports news. In between all this, there was a 30 second video with three sentences about people starving to death somewhere around the globe.

After finishing my dinner, I started cleaning up my refrigerator by throwing away expired food items and some leftovers. I was never comfortable throwing away food but I simply assumed that it is inevitable that some food items, especially fresh produce, would expire in my kitchen before I could consume them. After all, fresh produce only lasts for so long.

With the image of starving children still replaying in my mind, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe throwing away food is not inevitable. In fact it isn’t because I don’t remember seeing my parents throwing away food every week. It is shameful to throw away food when thousands are dying of hunger and malnutrition every day. That moment, I decided to take steps to educate and organize myself so that I would eliminate the problem of throwing away food. Two weeks later, I had solved this problem and was no longer wasting money on food which no one was going to consume. Guilt-free conscience was a bonus.

Here is the simple formula:

• Plan your menu before grocery shopping
• Buy only what you need
• Cook only what will be consumed
• Keep an eye on the expiration date and consume before the last date
• Freeze leftovers
• Repack to retain freshness

First of all plan ahead for what you will be cooking. Planning ahead would also help you in eating healthier. Create a grocery list based on what you will be cooking. Stick to this list. According to Dr. Stanley, author of “The Millionaire Mind”, millionaires use shopping lists and they only buy what is listed on their shopping list. Don’t buy more than what you need when you see a discount for buying twice as much or a super-sized product. You would end up either throwing away the extra quantity or overeat your way through it. It makes sense to buy extra salt, sugar or other non-perishable item if they are on sale but buying extra perishable goods means losing money or health.

Don’t cook a feast if only two persons are dining. Cook only what you will eat. I am sure you don’t enjoy eating leftovers from day before yesterday. If you have leftovers you don’t plan on eating tomorrow, freeze them so you can eat it next week.

Keep an eye on the expiration date and don’t wait for the last day to consume your product. Bell curves are used to calculate the expiration dates. So there is a 98% chance that your product is still good to eat on the date it expires. Consume it while the chances are still close to 100%.

Many products such as precut salads, nuts, and chips last longer if you reseal them. They spoil faster with moisture. Resealing is as simple as folding the bag and putting a scotch tape on it.

Unfortunately many people have debt and they buy groceries with credit cards. If you throw away a $1 worth of salad, you actually lost $1.20, assuming your credit card charges 20% interest rate. If you pay off the credit card in four years, the salad would have cost you more than twice. Americans throw away 27% of their food! By organizing yourself to eliminate food wastage, the money you save would buy you a month of groceries every fifth month. If you are in debt, you would get free groceries much earlier. Does any coupon, membership, or rewards program give you free groceries every fifth month?

The amount of food which Americans toss in the garbage every year is enough to feed 49 million hungry for the whole year. Americans aren’t the only offenders, Canadians, Gulf countries of the Middle East, Australia and other wealthy countries share this bad habit. It seems that we don’t realize the value of food because we have plenty of it. People in developing and poor countries are careful about not wasting food because food is expensive for them and the poor would happily take any food they can get. If everyone stopped throwing away food and if the food was better distributed, no one would go hungry or die of starvation.

The environmental cost of wasted food is billions of gallons of fresh water and millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions. A pound (0.6 kg) of potatoes requires 132 gallons (528 liters) of water. A pound of rice requires 505 gallons (2020 liters) of water. A pound of beef requires 26,400 gallons (105,600 liters) of water. These numbers are a shocking eye opener, aren’t they?

Food ending up in landfills creates methane which is 20 times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Compost your food so that it could be converted to a beneficial bio-fertilizer. Even if you eat all your food, you would still need to throw away corn peels, orange peels, and many other inedible portions of the produce. They belong in the compost. If you community doesn’t provide composting service, write to your local representative. Most politicians are not aware of this problem. In addition, they always play safe i.e. unless you complain, they won’t fix it. They need to be able to say that people in this community want this, need this, and asked me for it. Write to them and ask others to do so.

Reducing and eliminating food waste is easy. It will save you more money than any savings account or rewards program. It would reduce water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing food wastage, you are helping to fight hunger and malnutrition worldwide. Change your habits and teach your kids not to waste food. The habits acquired early are the ones we keep.

One final request, please spread this message.

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