About 18% of meat in America is wasted, either in our homes or during its journey through the food chain. While eating less meat can be helpful to our health, simply throwing it away has a negative impact on the environment and our household budget. Uneaten meat accounts for more than 20% percent of meat’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the average family of four already throws away over $2,000 worth of food each year.
During the holidays, an overabundance of food and a house full of dinner guests can lead to even more waste. So we asked Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, how food waste happens and what we can do to reduce our impact during the holiday season.
What fact about food waste would we find most surprising?
25% of the food we bring into our homes doesn’t end up being used. When you think of 1 in 4 items that you bought with your hard earned money being tossed away though, it brings it closer to home.
In what other ways is food wasted?
Appearance trumps taste in the US, so if anything is blemished or the wrong shape, size, or color, then it will probably be chucked.
The sheer level of abundance also leads to a lot of waste. We produce two times the amount of calories we should consume. It’s not terribly surprising that we’re wasteful with our food when there’s so much of it.
Is there food wasted during the production cycle of meat?
Meat production is terribly inefficient use of natural resources; the oil and water that go into growing feed for livestock is squandered, considering that we waste as much food as we do. To me, when we waste meat, that’s the most callous form of food waste.
What purchase decisions can we make to cut food waste at our holiday table?
There’s a whole lot of wiggle room between having enough and the amounts that many of us wind up serving. When you’re at the farmer’s market or grocery store, think about how many people will be coming over and how much the average person wants to eat. If you buy about 25% less than you planned, you should be okay.
What choices can we make after our holiday dinner that will reduce waste?
Have a plan for using that food or distribute it. Send guests home with to-go packages, or see if a neighbor would love to have a slice of pie or some leftover mashed potatoes.
In terms of using leftovers, there are so many resources online and a real opportunity to flex your creativity. You’ve already spent the upfront cost for the food: why not try to turn it into another meal or two and stretch your budget?
The holidays are also a season of giving. Is there anything we can do to ensure that otherwise wasted food is given to the hungry?
A lot of people want to volunteer this time of year, and soup kitchens are just jam packed, [but] food recovery and gleaning organizations would love help collecting food donations around the holidays. There are also a lot of canned food drives right now, so donating money instead let’s that non-profit buy what they need.