When Dinner Makes $218 Billion Worth of Trash
Guess what’s the number one item in America’s landfills? We may think it’s diapers, plastics, or electronics but the answer is, unfortunately, food. As a nation, 40 percent of our food ends up in the trash, according to SavetheFood.com. A family of four wastes as much as $1500 worth of food yearly. What if you found $1500 hidden in your sock drawer? Still think it’s not worth saving? From a purely economic point of view, that’s money in the trash. From an Islamic point of view, it’s disrespecting a blessing we are answerable for to God. In a nation where 1 out of 6 kids worry about not having their next meal, food waste is especially unacceptable.
Food waste is a multi-billion dollar problem internationally and waste occurs from farm to fork; whether in “fields, warehouses, packaging, distribution, supermarkets, restaurants, and fridges,” according to the Guardian. In the U.S. that’s $218 billion worth of food wasted, 70 billion pounds of it each year to be exact, according to the 2016, U.S.-based ReFED report.
If you’re an avid Halal Consumer magazine reader, when it comes to food waste you know we’re advocates of reinventing leftovers, composting, smaller portions so you can finish what’s on your plate and, of course, recognizing the barakah that is food. But that’s only the beginning.
Supermarkets don’t stock “ugly” produce that doesn’t have the “right” shape, size, or color because consumers don’t buy it. Our demand for blemish free, cosmetically perfect food results in farmers throwing away or feeding cattle 20 to 40 percent of perfectly nutritious, delicious, unspoiled produce that looks slightly different, when 1 in 5 American kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
We can begin the revolution by changing how we buy produce. “I didn’t know this food was thrown away. I hate the idea of food wastage, especially having seen poverty in developing nations. The idea of throwing away food because of how it looks is just unacceptable to me. While I wouldn’t go out of my way to find the ugliest produce on the shelf, if it’s going to be thrown away, I’ll buy it in a heartbeat,” says Farah Adil, a Chicago downtown resident.
Adil is an ideal candidate for ImperfectFood.com. “Imperfect delivers produce to your door for 30-50% less than the grocery store. We do this by sourcing “ugly” fruits and vegetables that usually go to waste on farms. These fruits and veggies taste the exact same on the inside but look a little “wonky” on the outside. Customers can select the box size and frequency that suits their lifestyle. Customers also choose which fruits and vegetables they’d like in their box each week from an ever-changing list of delicious, seasonal produce–so there’s no receiving produce you don’t want!,” reads their website.
Imperfectfood.com delivers ugly produce to the entire Bay Area in California; Los Angeles, CA; Orange County, CA; Portland, OR Metro Area; Seattle, WA Metro Area (includes Tacoma); and Chicago, IL Metro Area.
Adults and kids alike can also lend their pitchforks to The Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign (www.endfoodwaste.org and www.KidsLoveUglyFruit.com), internationally.
“Gleaning is picking what’s left in farmers’ fields after the harvest and delivering it to food banks (like Harvesters), pantries, shelters, and community kitchens. Farmers often have produce leftover that they can’t sell and don’t wish to throw away or turn under, so instead of letting it go to waste, they donate it,” according to After the Harvest. Google “Food Recovery Efforts” and “Gleaning” for your next service project and ensure food reaches hungry people.
Cooked food cannot be donated to a food pantry but it can go to soup kitchens and the like. Check out The Food Rescue Locator, (sustainableamerica.org/foodrescue), “an online directory of organizations across the United States that rescue, glean, transport, prepare, and distribute food to the needy in their communities.”
Do you really need to buy fresh produce that you may not get around to cooking before it spoils? Is there a frozen alternative for it? What many of us don’t know is that frozen veggies and fruits are flash frozen and trap the nutrients in the produce soon after harvest. When fresh produce travels, it loses nutrients with each day on the road, With frozen produce, unless it’s local produce, you are getting more nutritious food. When was the last time you had a party and didn’t have food in your fridge for days and, no, it wasn’t Thanksgiving or Eid. Use the food calculator (the guest-imator) on SavetheFood.com to determine how much food you realistically need to shop for a dinner party or a family of your size. Cha-ching! That’s the sound of money saved (and food kept out of a landfill).
According to Hester Bury, Director of Corporate and Foundation Giving, at Northern Illinois Food Bank, 2000 children receive backpacks of food each Friday, so they have food for the weekend. Can we be a nation that spends money on food we may not get around to eating before it spoils when entire families don’t have food on a regular basis? Can we have that weighing on our conscience? Our efforts to waste less start with buying less. “ICNA Relief ran the #NoMoreCupcakes campaign nationally in January 2018,” says Dr. Saima Azfar, Director, ICNA Relief, Chicago. “The idea was to give up one item of food you ate consistently, whether it was your daily cup of coffee or your tuna sandwich, and donate the savings to charity including your local food pantries.”
Every dollar donated to a food pantry like Sabeel Pantry, ICNA Relief’s, or the Northern Illinois Food Bank, typically buys $8 worth of food, because they’re able to negotiate bulk pricing.
Reinvent scraps and stale food. Convert overripe, spoiling bananas into banana bread and sour milk into cottage cheese. Stale bread makes amazing French Toast Casserole and Bread Pudding. Make smoothies, jams, and jellies with bruised, old fruit. Bones make excellent stock that can be frozen and used instead of water in another recipe. Scraps like cilantro stems can go into chutneys, just as easily as the leaves. Afraid fresh tomatoes will spoil before you use them? Just freeze them. When onions turn soft and sprout, cook the protein-rich sprouts and toss the onion into your compost bin. Google it and you’ll find plenty of ways to keep many an over-ripe fruit and veggie out of landfills.
The Northern Illinois Food Bank has relationships with companies that donate their expired canned food, cereals and more to them. Depending on the foods, they are edible even a year after the expiration date, says Bury. Yes! According to savethefood.com, those sell-by, Best-by, “food expiration dates have nothing to do with safety, and are only loosely related to quality… According to one industry study, 90 percent of us throw away food too soon, and over half of us do it regularly…Even meat that looks a little faded or gray is okay to eat.” So keep your food longer. If the thought is unpalatable (pun unintended), donate it to a food pantry. Given that as many as 30 percent of Illinois residents have some college education and are still forced to rely on food pantries, it is much needed.
Naazish YarKhan is (www.writersstudio.us) is a writer, editor and a college essay coach and has contributed to NPR, PRI and more.