Jonathan Bloom, author of “American Wasteland,” joined Food Tank for a webinar titled “Forsaken Food: The Impact and Opportunity of Food Waste,” and I sat in to learn more about this environmental and economic problem that’s becoming increasingly important as the population increases.

When I write about food waste, I do it from a grocery perspective. I write about how Americans throw away about 40 percent of the food they purchase. I give tips on how to curb your food waste. I also frequently point readers to Bloom’s Wasted Food blog for more in-depth information about food waste.

You can watch the entire webinar by going to Food Tank's website and registering, and you should. There’s a lot of information you’ll want to know in it. I want to bring to your attention, though, one thing particular I learned from Bloom and how it affects households. The Environmental Protection Agency has a Food Recovery Hierarchy. The inverted pyramid above shows what the EPA believes the most important step is in reducing food waste – source reduction.

What is it?

Food waste source reduction or prevention is the strategy of preventing food waste before it is created.
The EPA’s advice on their source reduction page is generally geared toward restaurants or cafeterias, but for those of us who bring food into our homes (and I’m sure that is all of us), there are steps we can take for source reduction, or stopping food waste before it starts.

Remember, it’s estimated that 40 percent of the food brought into a home goes uneaten. Why are we so cavalier with the food we bring into our homes, even though we know we’re throwing away money? Bloom suggests there are several reasons.

One reason is the cost of food. We may complain about the rising price of food, but no other nation pays as little for their food as the United States does, according to Bloom. On average, Americans pay 10 percent of their income for food, the lowest percentage globally. And, while food prices are rising, comparatively they are at an all time low. An artificial cheapness because of commodity crops and subsidies keeps food costs down – particularly on the wrong types of food.

The idea that food is cheap, along with the loss of food knowledge about when foods have gone bad because we’ve come to rely on arbitrary expiration dates, makes Americans place less of a value on the food that we bring into our home than we should. We’re shocked when we realize we waste 40 percent of what comes through our front doors, yet we do little about it.

What should we be doing about it? Here are a few of the ideas that food waste expert Bloom suggested.

  1. Shop smarter – don’t buy waste. When you shop just once a week, you can easily buy more than you need. Bloom suggests shopping more often, using the European marketplace approach of buying what you need on a day-to-day basis. That may work for some people, but it doesn't work for everyone (like me).
  2. If you shop less frequently, plan your meals, make a grocery store list, and stick to it.
  3. Avoid buying so many fresh foods that you can’t see everything in your refrigerator.
  4. Keep things visible in your refrigerator. Don’t allow it to get cluttered.
  5. Put foods in see-through containers.
  6. Befriend your freezer. Freeze perishables and leftovers before they go bad.
  7. Ignore expiration dates. Bloom says this is one of his more controversial pieces of advice, but I’ve suggested it in the past, too. The dates placed by food companies on both perishables and non-perishables often indicate quality, not safety.
By cutting off food waste at its source and not allowing it to become waste in the first place, households can help curb the environmental and economic problems associated with wasted food.

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