Week 25: Trim Your Waste Line
by Sherri Jackson and Laurel Hood, 52 Weeks of Climate Action
Thanksgiving is a whole other level of crazy this year. Where normally you may be running around, sourcing giant turkeys and peeling potatoes, we’ve been asked to pare down, and celebrate the holiday differently. Instead of 20 people around your table, there may only be a handful. That in itself may change what your foodprint looks like this holiday. Since you’ll be shopping this week, we wanted to talk about food waste. We’ve mentioned it before in past challenges, but while we’re heading into the holiday season, thinking about how much we buy and what happens to it afterward is on our radar.
Challenge 25 &Thanksgiving week: Try and create zero food waste. Make soup or stew. Freeze leftovers. Buy less.
It’s a strange reality that over half of the food we produce gets thrown away. Second Harvest, a food security agency in Toronto, reported that food lost or wasted is in excess of 35.5 million tonnes annually. And, at least 33% of that could be salvaged, and sent to communities in need nationwide. That cost to Canadians is over $49 billion annually. Don’t even get me started on how many Canadians (especially children) go hungry every day due to food insecurity. It all has an environmental impact, if you think about how food gets to your refrigerator, and then, if you don’t consume it, ends up in our landfill. All the energy taken to pick, wash, trim, pack, ship, and deliver that food is wasted. So, every time you toss those pathetic stalks of rubbery celery in the bin, you’re compounding the problem. Part of the problem is our perception of what’s “edible”. We’re pretty spoiled in the way we look at food. If it’s not perfect, we don’t buy it. Retailers know it. So, any produce that doesn’t meet a stringent standard doesn’t even get to the shelf. That’s ridiculous. An ugly carrot tastes just as good as a perfectly straight one. Another issue is “best before” dates. Those are marketing strategies. They’re not real. Best before doesn’t indicate whether something is safe to eat or not. It was designed by companies to make you throw things out by a certain date, and buy new ones. It’s a sham. Does your cottage cheese suddenly become toxic the next day? No it does not. Unfortunately, we’ve taken the bait, so grocers often throw away food that is close to its “best before” date, because they know you won’t buy them. So, take a risk. Trust your common sense before a date stamp. There’s some food waste that’s inevitable - tea bags, coffee grounds, bones, peels, shells. But it’s all compostable, whether in your own yard, or in our county facility. We’re talking about the other stuff. It’s good to compost; but, it’s better not to waste food in the first place, because composting doesn’t negate the amount of energy it took to get that lettuce to your table. When you toss it, you contribute to burning that energy, for no reason. Getting your food waste down can be a challenge. We’ve all got really bad habits. Ours is saving leftovers in the fridge, letting them expire, and then tossing them. We have good intentions to reuse them, but, somehow, they often don’t get revisited until it’s too late. Here are some unpleasant statistics. 63% of the food Canadians waste could have been eaten. That’s more than 140 kgs of food per year, for the average family. To put it in perspective, that’s 470,000 heads of lettuce. 1.2 million tomatoes. 2.4 million potatoes. 750,000 loaves of bread… it’s a lot. There’s a terrific website called “Love Food, Hate Waste”. It has tons of information on how to reduce your food waste. Here are a few of them. Use what you’ve got. Use up what’s in the fridge or cupboard already before unfreezing something, or opening a new package. Build your meal around what’s already there instead of running out for something else. Plan it out. When you plan your meals, you’ll buy less. You’ll know what you need, and only shop for items you know you’re going to use. Check flyers online to see what's on sale, and build around it. Plan how to use leftovers. From your Thanksgiving turkey, you can build many meals. Think turkey pot pie. Stew. Soup. Turkey tacos. Freeze things before they spoil, rather than letting them lurk in the dark corners of your fridge. Schedule a lazy night: there are nights when you’d rather just order in. So, instead of buying food for that night, plan to have someone else cook for you. Use up your veg on the edge: throw wilty celery or withered mushrooms into spaghetti sauce. Chili doesn’t care whether your peppers are shrivelled. Whole tomatoes can go in too. Old bananas get peeled and frozen for smoothies, or banana bread. Rethink old bread: French toast? Yup. Hunks of stale bread can be whirred in the food processor to become breadcrumbs, which you can store in your freezer. Toast stale crackers in the oven for a few minutes to crisp them up again. So while you’re enjoying the bounty of Thanksgiving, remember these things: Shop lighter. Use up your leftovers. Donate to a foodbank. And be grateful for what you have. Yours in Sustainability, Sherri Jackson & Laurel Hood 52 Weeks of Climate Action was created by Sherri Jackson and Laurel Hood. Sherri is a writer, speaker and musician. She is the candidate of record and communications coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Laurel Hood, is a retired secondary teacher, transportation lead for the Collingwood Climate Action Team, and volunteer coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Visit our blog or sign up at www.52weeksofclimateaction.com.