Food and Cuisine

Published on November 19th, 2009 | by Jennifer Lance


Green Your Thanksgiving by Eliminating Food Waste

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and although this holiday is designed to celebrate the bounty of fall harvests and myths of US history, discarding (or composting) half the meal makes this holiday unsustainable.  You may be planning to green your Thanksgiving by only serving local foods; however, if you waste those uneaten leftovers, you may be contributing to climate change more than you thought.

Photo by xybermatthewReduce food waste this Thanksgiving

Reduce food waste this Thanksgiving

It’s just not consumers but farmers who are wasting food in the western world.  According to a 2004 study by the University of Arizona (UA), between 40 to 50 percent of food grown is wasted and never reaches consumers.  Food Production Daily explains:

The fact that the US is a wasteful nation is not necessarily news, of course. The country has long has been chastised for its wilful consumption of the world’s resources, and many aspects of the country’s culture encapsulate what environmentalists disparagingly refer to as today’s “throw-away society.”

Similarly, researchers have known for years about the volumes of food Americans toss into the trash. But only recently, though, has that been quantified as a percentage of what is produced, and the UA statistics are the first tangible proof that Us food production is frighteningly wasteful.

The situation does not improve once food leaves the farm.  Each year farmers sell 350 billion pounds of food to American retailers, restaurants, consumers, etc.  According to Common Dreams, 100 billion pounds of that food is discarded.  The New York Times further explains:

As it turns out, Americans waste an astounding amount of food — an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, according to a government study — and it happens at the supermarket, in restaurants and cafeterias and in your very own kitchen. It works out to about a pound of food every day for every American.

Unfortunately, only two percent of that food waste is composted compared to 62 percent of  lawn debris.  Food waste in landfills produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas 20 percent more damaging than carbon dioxideCNN explains:

But moral and economic issues aside, it is the environmental concerns around food waste that is driving the push for reform on how to treat the problem of leftovers. Methane, the gas food waste produces, traps 23 times as much heat in the atmosphere as the same amount of CO2, the EPA says. And landfills are the place you will find most of it — they account for 34 percent of all methane emissions in the U.S.

Food Democracy shares some staggering statistics from the UA study:

  • Households dump $43 billion worth of food a year, or about 14 percent of what they buy. That doesn’t include plate scrapings.
  • 15 percent of that waste includes products still within their expiration date but never opened.
  • 5 percent of American’s leftovers could feed 4 million people for 1 day…
  • Reducing food waste by half could reduce adverse environmental impacts by 25 per cent through reduced landfill use, soil depletion and applications of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides.

The United States is not the only country plagued by food waste.   In Britain, a new study has found more than “$20 billion of consumable food and drink is throw away in the country each year.”  What is unique to this food waste study is that it included liquids, such as milk and juice in its statistics.  20 percent of Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions stem from “food production, distribution, and storage”.  The British government’s Waste and Resources Action Program recommends reducing “consumer food waste by 250,000 tons by March 2011, which the group says would save 1.1 million tons of carbon-dioxide emissions”.

This Thanksgiving when you are preparing your grand, organically-grown local feast, whether vegan or omnivore, consider portion size when cooking.  Only prepare what will be consumed, including leftovers for a day or two.  Think about how much of the meal you discarded last year and adjust your menu accordingly. It’s not just about saving food resources and money, it’s about saving the planet.

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