When you really think about it, how much food waste are you accumulating in your household? Do you ever clear out your fridge thinking, “er… what is that?”

It can definitely be a challenge for some to reduce their household food waste. After all, we don’t tend to be terribly mindful of what we are tossing. It’s something we just do, especially during food-focused times of year, like the winter holidays.

There have been many studies published about food waste in the world. Last May, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations published a document, Global Food Losses and Food Waste, outlining the details about how the world connects with food waste.

Basically, consumers in North America and Europe toss about 209 to 253 pounds of food per person every year. Considering that according to the USDA the average American eats 4.7 pounds of food per day, the amount of food waste would feed each person for about two months at a time. Overall, one third of the food production for human consumption is lost, as well. Even developing countries tend to waste about the same.

However, the biggest difference is where the food waste occurs. While in industrialized countries, a lot of the waste is had at the retail and consumer levels, developing countries tend to lose it at the postharvest and processing level. So in other words, while we toss good food, theirs is spoiling. Our standards for appearance (really, Appearance Quality Standards causes human-grade to be exchanged for animal feed because it doesn’t “look” good (IE an oddly shaped potato).

Since in the United States food waste is at about 40 percent, it’s important to try to be more mindful of what we can do to change that. A 2002 study of American households indicated that families tossed out about fourteen percent of their food. While this number may seem low, that equates to about six hundred dollars per year–a significant chunk for most folks.

Food waste also impacts the national energy policy. A study from 2010 outlines that energy that is in the food waste exceeds what is available from most popular “efficiency” programs, such as the annual ethanol production output from drilling in the outer continental shelf. An estimated 300 million barrels of oil per year (equivalent to about four percent of the total oil) was used to for the production and transportation of food that was, you guessed it, wasted in some form.

Yes, food waste is a growing concern, and chances are, we all partake somehow. Here’s some ideas on how to change some of your routine in 2012.

  • Grow your own vegetables, herbs, and fruit at home, and use these items first.
  • Plan your meals for the week, see what you already have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry, then base a shopping list on how to round it out.
  • Learn to store fruits and vegetables properly.
  • Visit the local market and/or use a CSA farmer for some go-to weekly items.
  • Visit the market every few days, purchase fresh food, and shop at the grocery store only for staples.
  • Look for good quality, well-grown fruits and veggies… and who cares how they look?
  • Buy bulk in terms of items that aren’t as perishable, such as grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Buy what you need for the upcoming meals, and you can also store nuts, seeds, and grains in the freezer for longevity.
  • Eat and enjoy leftovers, or freeze them.
  • Save vegetable and herb scraps for soup stock.
  • Be mindful of what you are eating.

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