There are many ways to think about food waste that could make you more mindful about what you throw in the trash. Of course, it's always helpful to look at the financial angle and think of food waste as just throwing that cash into the garbage.
It's also wise to consider how many resources went into producing and transporting the food, and the needless negative environmental impact of food that never was eaten. Perhaps you can think of wasting food like a non-stop shower without anyone standing in the tub. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, wasting a pound of cheese is the equivalent of letting the shower run for over two hours — that's how much water goes to waste when that cheese is chucked.
A report in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics puts wasted food into a different framework: the nutrition lost when food goes uneaten. Researchers looked at food that was wasted on the retail and consumer levels in the U.S. in 2012. They found that each day, the average person wasted 1,217 kilocalories, 33 grams of protein, 5.9 grams of dietary fiber, 1.7 micrograms of vitamin D, 286 milligrams of calcium and 880 milligrams of potassium.
Using dietary fiber as an example, 5.9 g dietary fiber is 23 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance for women. This is equivalent to the fiber Recommended Dietary Allowance for 74 million adult women. Adult women in 2012 underconsumed dietary fiber by 8.9 g/day, and the amount of wasted fiber is equivalent to this gap for 206.6 million adult women.
Think about that. On average, each person in America wastes the amount of food that could potentially sustain a whole other person. It may not be enough to give everyone the Recommended Dietary Allowance of all vitamins and minerals, but it could certainly keep the food insecure from being hungry.
Does that make you think twice about how much food you waste?
Of course, there needs to be some bridge between the food you don't waste and its ability to get into the hands of those who are food insecure. You can be responsible for building that bridge.
One way is to donate non-perishable food that's been languishing in your pantry — before its expiration date — to a local food pantry. Another way is to make sandwiches with meat that needs to be used up along with some fruits or raw vegetables that you have an abundance of and pack them in bags to give to the homeless. There's also the brilliant non-profit Move for Hunger that takes all the food someone would usually throw away when moving and donates it for them.
It takes a little effort, but there are ways for you to get your own food into the hands of the hungry. Other suggestions for doing so are more than welcome in the comments.