week 5: how much we waste

our herb ( plus jade & hot peppers) collection, taking over the table

Joe & I have been trying to source our diets from a lower trophic level & closer to home for a few years now, which has naturally cut down on the amount of waste we create. (Not to mention paying more for organic encourages you to eat those vegetables when all you really want to do is throw in the towel & order a pizza.)

Even still, we throw out a shameful amount of food. I was aware it was happening, but I had no idea it was quite so tragic. A few weeks ago, I came across this L.A. Times piece on the Natural Resource Defense Council’s shocking study: Americans waste up to 40% of their food.

It was this study that was the direct impetus for my personal project, and it was reinforced when classmate Naomi posted this gorgeously displayed article breaking down our food waste. Most of it is tossed out untouched.

It all comes down, like so much of what we talk about in our sustainable communities class, to perception. The fruit isn’t shiny; the potatoes are uniform; the lettuce isn’t triple-washed: Don’t touch it. The lawn isn’t manicured grass: Something’s wrong. Stories like that of Denise Morrison, who had her garden cut down because it took up too much of her lawn, keep popping up.

As we shifted more toward convenience food, waste became a larger part of our diet–from using fewer parts of the animal & plant to having more packaging. It’s also led to a huge reduction in the portion of our income (from 20% in 1960 to <10% today) dedicated to our diet. That means throwing away half a box of macaroni & cheese or a plateful of food at a buffet means far less to us now than it used to. (I blogged about that more here, if you’re interested.)

We’re learning a lot & adjusting the kind of waste we bring home, like snacks or condiments exclusively in glass packaging. While it’s great that they can be endlessly recycled, we’re more excited about our ability to reuse them. I always buy more food than we can eat, so I’m learning to make jellies. So far, we’ve made three jars each of peach freezer jam & jalapeño freezer jam. (That’s right. I am still too afraid to use the boiling canning method.)

We’re still buying canned beans & six-packs, but there are a few projects on the horizon: life cycle analysis of canned v. dried beans & similar projects, making some reusable bags so we’re not bringing home plastic baggies with our bulk goods.

There are a few quick ways we’ve found to cut down on waste that I want to share. Going to market? Donate your produce bags, twist-ties & egg cartons to farmers. They really appreciate it (as long as they’re not gross & torn). Buying bulk? Write the project name on the tag, along with the number; save the tags for the next time you buy that product. (I’ve been wasting so many of those tags. It doesn’t seem like much, but it drives me crazy!)

Our biggest pitfall, which lead to several meals worth of leftovers or unused odds & ends going into the garbage, was coming home late & not wanting to cook. I plan out our meals in advance, but I’ve also gotten better about making ALL the big stuff (ravioli, bread, soup & a casserole) on Saturday. That means we have lunches at the ready, and when we come home late after work we can just warm something on the stove.

Here are a few shots of our Saturday afternoons:

a harvest from our garden,

a basket of our community-supported agriculture (CSA) share,

and the compost after we prepare our food for the week (which fills a paper bag).

Then, some days you get a bonus surprise… like these, our first radishes, that popped up just about two weeks after planting.

The Real Question

I’d say Joe & I still throw away enough food in the week to average a full dinner for the two of us. Take a second & look back. How many meals do you throw out? Are there products that always seem to end up in the trash, no matter how hard you try? (Like my okra…)


About meganbetz

human geography PhD Student at Indiana University; wife, reader, writer, baker, gardener
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2 Responses to week 5: how much we waste

  1. Mark Milby says:

    Heidi and I are suckers for canned goods – they’re usually extremely cheap and you can sit on them for a long time – but we find ourselves throwing away the can-that-we-opened-but-only-used-half-and-then-it-sat-in-the-fridge-for-three-weeks. Crushed tomatoes. Coconut milk. Canned soups. Their half-eaten contents also elude my food-waste-is-unacceptable house rule.

    Also, chips and bread go stale fast in our house. We have to keep most bread in the refrigerator or even freezer. The only thing that happens faster is fruit flies around our compost container…

    Please, for your own good, don’t turn those peppers into more jalapeno poppers!

    • meganbetz says:

      Haha! No. We will NOT be doing more poppers–or at least, not just for the 2 of us. I don’t ever want to eat that much bacon again.

      And those fruit flies! Gah. I started trapping them in a cup of apple cider vinegar (with a dash of dish soap), but now we just have a cup of dead ones on the counter as I watch the vinegar evaporate. (I mean, I don’t want to WASTE it…)

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