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December 2019 | Food Waste

In this post, we read, listen, act, and reflect on December's topic: food waste. This article has been adapted from our sustainability newsletter, so please sign up for it to stay in the loop.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

What’s covered:

  • READ - food waste & food insecurity facts
  • LISTEN - food waste is solvable + a beer made from bread butts
  • ACT - 9 tips to reduce food waste + 3 recipes
  • REFLECT - a food waste audit worksheet

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"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar,
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"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

🎯 Action step 1 of 4: READ — Let's start by looking at a few articles together.

Read | Food Waste Facts

It's the holiday season, and we all know what that means: eating and eating and eating till we can eat no more. And eating again anyway.

If you haven't disposed of your Thanksgiving leftovers yet, good: $293 million of food waste happens after this holiday for turkey alone. That's right - this pesky bird (jk, our wasteful habits) is expected to have an annual waste amount of 200 million pounds.

In December, we have a chance to redeem ourselves. I'm sure you'll get some time to eat, drink, and be merry with family/friends, giving you the perfect time to make conscious food choices.

This month's Changeletter comes from Noopur Gosalia, a Soapbox community member and founder of the RLC (Rescuing Leftover Cuisine) Seattle chapter. This is her below!

Food Insecurity Facts

Here's what we learned from Feeding America:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. It is important to know that though hunger and food insecurity are closely related, they are distinct concepts. Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level.

Tell me more

  • According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40% of food in the United States is wasted while 1 in 8 Americans struggle to put food on the table.
  • In the US, $1 trillion worth of food is lost or wasted each year (about ⅓ of the world’s food). That amount of money could feed 2 BILLION people - twice the amount of undernourished people in the world.
  • We waste 50% more now than we did just 40 years ago. WTF, people?!?!
  • The food insecure population is growing day by day - In Sub-Saharan Africa, one in every four people is undernourished.


That's not all...

Economic & environmental impacts of food waste

  • Every year, American consumers, businesses, and farms spend $218 billion growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that is never eaten. That's 1.3% of our GDP dedicated to waste!
  • As food waste gets thrown into landfills, it starts to release methane into the air. Global food loss and waste generates 8% of global emissions, which only adds to the existing climate change problem.
  • Check out this graphic below from ReFed - they have a bunch more ~ digestible ~ graphics and food waste info on their website.

So, in summary...

There's more than enough food to feed the world, making food waste the world's dumbest problem. It's time to find local solutions to this global problem

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 1 of 4: READ.

🎯 Action step 2 of 4: LISTEN — we'll watch a short video or listen to a podcast to further expand on our topic.

Listen | Food Waste is Solvable

Here's a little morning misery for you to make your Wednesday woes even more woeful. By 2050, we're going to need to increaes our global food production by 50% if we want to feed the new 2.2 billion humans we're anticipated to welcome. However, we simply do not have the resources to do that.

* Cue mass species extinction *

Just kidding. Actually, I'm not kidding, but I do know there's something we can do about our impending doom: waste less food. That butt-end of the bread we all hate? Saving it may just save the human race. #TeamButt

Today's podcast episode is actually not about the extinction of the human race; it's about community and fun and beer! As Tristram Stuart, the star of today's Changeletter said, "if you want to change the world, throw a better party than the people destroying it."

To kick off our party, here's a 30 minute episode on how we can solve food waste from Solvable, a podcast to understand how world leaders think and tackle global challenges. I've only ever listened to this one, but I think I've found my new favorite show. (You can click the image below to play it.)

Tristram talks about how food waste is a problem we can all solve in our homes - over 50% of food waste comes from households - and how we can do it by drinking beer.

This is not a drill.

3 podcast highlights in case you didn't listen

  • Companion is derived from the Latin words that translate to "with" and "bread". Companion literally means someone you share food with. That makes me so happy - the future of food is friends! Tristram founded a company called Toast Ale. They turn unused bread scraps into beer and turn all their profits into advocacy work. Butt-ends of bread saving the day again! #TeamButt

  • We're psychologically hard-wired to buy more than we need at grocery stores because of our homo sapiens scarcity mindset. That's why it's so hard to buy less. Now that I'm aware of it, though, I'll repress my evil apey insides and I WON'T buy that $5 box of spinach. #TeamHuman

  • Farm subsidies result in food that is environmentally harmful and nutritionally sub-optimal. Before this episode, I knew nothing about what a huge role farm subsidies play in the way we live our daily lives. Basically, the government gives farms money to optimize for quantity, not quality. Aaand guess why? Large corporations, through campaign finance, "encourage" the candidates they fund to act in their best interests. I had no idea that food and campaign finance reform were so closely tied together.

A bonus podcast and 8 more facts

If you want to know more about how solvable this problem is, I'm recommending another episode, "Food Waste and Climate Change" by Deliciously Ella. The hosts interviewed Tessa Clarke, a co-founder of Olio.

Here are eight things I learned from the episode:

  1. Olio is an app that allows you to share food with your neighbors. You know how think you need a whole bag of avocados but you only use one before they threaten to turn to mush? You can put the rest on Olio to save them from the trashcan and turn them into more beautiful avocado toast.
  2. For all my capitalists out there, food waste is valued at $1.2 TRILLION a year. Think about how much innovation can happen in this space. If you're thinking about starting a company and doing some good in the world, here's your sign.
  3. An area larger than China is used to grow all the food that never gets eaten.
  4. AND if food waste was a country, it would be the third largest in greenhouse gas emitter. I'm not digging this FoodWasteTopia.
  5. 25% of the world's fresh water is used to grow food that is never eaten.
  6. The UN set a sustainable development goal to half food waste by 2030... we're on track to increase it by a third.
  7. We need to produce 50% more food than we currently do to feed our population in 2050.
  8. In most developed countries, over half of food waste happens at home.

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 2 of 4: LISTEN.

🎯 Action step 3 of 4: ACT — Now it's time to do something. Let's go!

Act | 9 Tips for Reducing Food Waste

  1. Take the expiration date with a grain of salt. Expiration dates are just a best guess by manufacturers on how long the food should last - it’s not always accurate. Confusion around “best by”, “sell by”, and “use by” dates cause Amerians to throw away approximately $29 billion worth of safe food per year.
  2. Freeze! Everything! Okay, not everything... but you know all those herbs you buy and never use? Those can be frozen. Here's a USDA database that helps you understand how long your food and drinks will last after freezing. Bookmark it!
  3. Make habitual changes in your food practices. For example, when going grocery shopping, don’t overcompensate for the amount of food you need, make a list beforehand! If your recipe calls for one onion, just buy that! You can always buy more later - this will limit the amount of food that expires in your fridge that you have to end up tossing.
  4. Consider donating to an organization that bridges the gap between food waste and food insecurity. Rescuing Leftover Cuisine is an organization that leverages a volunteer system to pick up leftover food from restaurants and donates it to places in need. They have different options for you to donate (via credit card, paypal, check, even bitcoin!) that make it easy to give back.
  5. Volunteer at a local food bank or try to do a food rescue yourself. Companies like Rescuing Leftover Cuisine and Food Runners let you volunteer your time to pick up and drop off food and see the direct impact of your actions.
  6. Buy wonky produce. Humans aren’t the only ones that come in different shapes and sizes! Produce does too. Consider ordering groceries from Imperfect Foods - to make sure that foods that look a little different don’t get left behind.
  7. Compost! Not only is it easy, it also establishes you as morally righteous when someone comes over and you can direct them to put food waste in your compost. Bonus points if you make your own.
  8. Get your company involved. Consider talking to your company’s leadership about entering the U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champion, where they can commit to reducing food loss within your organization by 50%. You can find the application here.
  9. GOOGLE! Just a simple search of "what can I do with leftover X?" opens up a whole new world. Keep reading for recipes!

3 recipes to waste less while making more

Here's what you said last week about what you throw away the most and some recipes based on that.

Third place: rice

Second place: milk

First place: spinach/salad

  1. Fried rice. (You make way too much rice in the rice cooker. You put it in the fridge, thinking you'll eat it the next day. Your rice dries up. It's sorta gross. Goodbye, rice.) Fry! Your! Rice! It's so easy.
  2. Creamy pasta sauce (with milk). I make mine by sauteeing some garlic and red pepper, adding ~1-3 tbsp of flour, and stirring in milk until it thickens. It never looks like it will, but trust me, it works. I also add milk to red pasta sauce. It wastes less and tastes wayyy better. If you're not a pasta person, here are 23 more recipes to finish a gallon of milk. Also, seriously, just buy less milk. I bought oat milk for the first time this week and the expiration date is in MARCH, 3 months from now.
  3. Sneaky spinach smoothies. Here are 37 entire smoothie recipes you can sneak spinach into. You reduce your food waste AND give yourself a delicious treat at the same time! Talk about a win-win.

Bonus: There is literally a whole article on how to waste less lettuce. It's got five tips including salad substitutes like thawed frozen peas, canned corn, and fresh basil from your own lil plant.)

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 3 of 4: ACT.

Before we go any further, it's time for you to pledge your commitment. It takes less than 30 seconds to pledge and we can bother you about it in a friendly way, so we can hold each other accountable. Pledge here!

🎯 Action step 4 of 4: REFLECT — what can you commit to? What fresh perspectives can we look at?

Reflect | Food waste audit

I'm saving you time and money with this week's reflection.

I discovered a company called Ends + Stems, and they have this awesome template for a food waste audit.

Click the photo below to open up the template for the food waste audit! It's super simple, only takes a week, and can save you lots of money, depending on how much your household throws away each week.

All you have to do is pick a week, print the sheet (or make your own), and get your household on board. Easy peasy!

Ends + Stems also has a "what's in your fridge" recipe finder. You don't even have to Google your own recipes!

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 4 of 4: REFLECT.

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Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 5,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar,
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google