Thought for food: How to change wasteful habits

Take a moment to absorb this shocking statistic: 34 million tons of food in the United States is thrown away every year. Reducing U.S. food waste by just 15 percent would help feed an estimated 25 million Americans, or roughly half of those who don't have access to enough food.

Globally, about one-third of edible food – about 1.3 billion tons – is lost (often due to inadequate transportation and storage) or wasted annually. Reducing food loss and waste would provide enough food to feed 2 billion people, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It also would conserve resources, save money, and limit pollution.

Most of us don't think about the tremendous amounts of water, energy and other resources that go into growing, harvesting, processing, and transporting food that might end up in the trash bin. Globally, the estimated carbon footprint of wasted food is equivalent to 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the FAO. That’s more greenhouse gas pollution than produced in a year by any country except China and the United States.

Developed countries generate 10 times the amount of food waste per capita as many developing countries. Americans on average throw away 20 pounds of food each month, including 40 percent of fresh fish, 23 percent of eggs, and 20 percent of milk.

Improving these statistics will require making some fundamental changes.

The big challenges involve changing the ways stores market and consumers buy food. For example, 2-for-1 specials on food nearing its expiration date or promotions that encourage bulk buying of perishables can result in food going to waste instead of finding a “second life” as cooked meals in stores or food bank donations.

This holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year's is a time for families to gather around the table and enjoy good company and good food. Unfortunately, households produce three times as much food waste over the holidays than during other times of the year.

We have all been there. Everything looks so appetizing in the store and we want to set a bountiful table, so we overestimate what we need.

Fortunately, simple steps can make a difference, like taking stock of what you have before shopping to prevent buying unnecessary food. After the big holiday meal, get creative with the leftovers. Extra turkey or ham is great in jambalaya. Those remaining potatoes and veggies would be great in a pot pie, soup or casserole.

Other tips for cutting back on wasted food:

  • Create a grocery list and stick to it.
  • Control the portions you cook and serve.
  • Freeze leftovers to preserve them longer.
  • Take home leftovers from dining out to create another meal.
  • Compost food scraps.

Making choices that reduce food waste can also save money. According to the Department of Agriculture, an estimated $165 billion is spent annually on food that never gets eaten. For the average U.S. household, that’s $936 a year on food that is thrown away.

By being more conscious when you are shopping, serving and storing food this holiday season, you will not only give a gift to the environment, you'll also keep a little more green in your wallet. Let's give thanks for that.