food wasteA short piece about food waste from The Des Moines Register caught my attention this week. About 1,000 adults were surveyed, and 63 percent of them said they were concerned about our country's food waste. In fact, it was a bigger issue to many of them than GMOs or climate change.

Here’s the really interesting part: only 34 percent of those surveyed thought the food they wasted in their own homes was a concern. Almost half of the people who see food waste as a problem, don’t see it as their personal problem.

Perhaps they don’t know that according to a recent USDA report, twice as much food is wasted on the consumer level than it is on the retail level. In other words, if you think grocery stores throw out more food than people do in their homes, you’re wrong.

Perhaps they also don’t know that Americans throw away 40 percent of the food they bring into their homes. Almost half of what they buy gets trashed.

How is your personal food waste, the food you bring into your home but never eat, a problem? Here’s how:

  • You’re contributing to the waste of energy. A study by the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin found that 2 percent of the annual energy consumption in the U.S. was used on food that went to waste. How does food use energy? Think of the all the energy it takes to produce, transport, process and handle food, and you’ll start to see that in every step of the way, energy is used for food. That 2 percent is probably a conservative number because the study used 1995 data that said Americans threw away 27 percent of the food produced. It’s now estimated that food waste could be as much as 50 percent.
  • You’re contributing to carbon emissions. The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization released a report that found “the carbon footprint of wasted food is equivalent to 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.” China and the USA are the top two carbon emitters in the world. Food waste is the third. It’s like food waste is an entire country in and of itself when it comes to carbon emissions, and so much of that food waste comes from what we throw away in our own homes.
  • You’re contributing to hunger. Pope Francis commented that our culture of food waste is like stealing from the poor. I know what you’re probably thinking. You’re probably imagining the clichéd, “Don’t waste food because there’s some poor kid starving halfway around the world” mantra of parents who are trying to get their kids to eat. That’s not what this is about. It’s not about taking your unwanted green beans and sending them to a kid in Africa, which every kid knows isn’t going to happen.
    What it is about is attitude. As long as we don't see our food waste as a big deal, we won't think of how tackling food waste can help the hungry. If everyone from the farmers who grow the food to the governments who subsidize the food to the markets that sell the food to the consumers who buy the food worked together to stop the waste and divert the perfectly edible food into the hands and mouths of the hungry, real change could happen. It can be done — not by kids cleaning their plates, but by changing our “culture" of food waste.
  • You’re wasting your cold, hard-earned cash. The average family of four throws away $2,275 worth of food each year. If you don’t see any of the other issues surrounding personal food waste as a problem, it’s hard to argue that wasting this much money isn’t a personal issue. That’s a vacation. That’s a kids’ college fund if you start putting that much money each year when kids are little. That’s simply an amount of money that none of us would put in the garbage disposal if we were handed it in dollar bills, but when it happens one half-bag of mushy salad greens at a time going down the disposal, we don’t bat an eyelash.
What can you do about your personal food waste? Start with these 7 expert tips for reducing household food waste before it starts from Jonathan Bloom, author of “American Wasteland.” Once you’ve tackled those tips, start tackling your leftovers and make sure they get eaten.

One of my favorite things to do is find ways to turn leftovers into new meals. Here are a few ideas for turning some of the leftovers from seasonal fresh produce into something new to eat.

Inset illustration: Eugene Zagatin/Shutterstock

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Why your personal food waste matters
A poll found that almost half of the people who see food waste as a problem don’t view it as a problem they’re contributing to.