Raw food - food waste myths

Did you know that 40% of food is wasted from farm to fork to landfill in the United States? Sadly, this has huge social and environmental consequences.

Transporting food “from farm to fork” uses 10% of the total energy budget of the U.S., 50% of U.S. land, and a staggering 80% of our freshwater. We are throwing out $165 billion in food waste, while 1 in every 6 Americans lacks food security. Unfortunately, food waste winds up in landfills, where it rots and emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Although the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has helped raise awareness of this issue in the past few years, many widely held myths prevail that allow the problem to continue. Here are five offenders of food waste myths.

Myth 1: I don’t waste food; it is everyone else who does

Although 63% of U.S. grocery shoppers express concern for the amount of food wasted in the U.S., a mere 34% demonstrate concern about the quantity of food wasted in their own homes, according to a 2014 study. This disconnect discourages action at home, where most Americans have the greatest ability to decrease food waste.

Myth 2: Use by/sell by dates are cast in stone

According to a survey by the Food Marketing Institute, confusion over dates causes nine out of 10 Americans to needlessly throw away food, resulting in the waste of hundreds of dollars of food each year per household.

The NRDC states:

“All those dates on food products — sell by, use by, best before — almost none of those dates indicate the safety of food, and generally speaking, they’re not regulated in the way many people believe.”

Because these dates sound so official, many people won’t consume food after such dates have passed. Instead of using arbitrary dates, use your best judgment to determine if food is fresh enough to eat by examining it and smelling it. It always helps to store it properly before use.

Myth 3: We need to grow more food to end world hunger

Globally, enough food is produced to feed everyone. Food insecurity largely arises from a lack of resources to purchase or grow a sufficient amount. Creating better safety nets for low-income families is an effective way to respond to the issue, especially when food that would otherwise be wasted can be provided to people in need. Instead of attempting to solve world hunger by increasing production yields, proper food storage and distribution is essential, combined with economic opportunities.

Food in fridge
Image courtesy of Katrin Gilger.

Myth 4: Irregular produce is bad

In the U.S., there is a very high aesthetic standard for fruits and veggies in grocery stores, and many items don’t make the cut. Perfectly edible produce is often wasted because of little blemishes or abnormalities. Farmers markets, however, provide an opportunity to reduce this food waste, by selling irregular produce at a discount.

The Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign embraces these imperfections in produce, working to shift our cultural view on the importance of uniform produce. This organization seeks to reduce the 26% of all produce that never even makes it to grocery store shelves.

Myth 5: Feeding food scraps to animals is dangerous

Think of the birds next time you have a stale loaf of bread — or of your dog if you cooked too much brown rice for dinner. Likewise, cats, backyard chickens, squirrels, and other animals can safely eat many of the foods that we otherwise throw out.

Many human foods are safe and healthy to feed to dogs, especially if you think they will otherwise spoil. Lean meats, brown rice, whole-grain bread, peanut butter, and many (but not all) veggies and fruits are safe. Avoid milk, excessively salty food, chocolate, animal bones (because they can splinter), onions, and garlic.

Feature image courtesy of Kai Lehmann

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.