A Resolution With Purpose & Impact: Reduce Food Waste
Updated: Jan 24
This piece was written by Morgan Kovacs. Morgan is a University of Toledo graduate and freelance writer. Her work can be found in The Toledo City Paper, her food blog "One Meal at a Time" and on our Urblog where she merges her passion for writing, community involvement, and, of course, fresh, healthy, and delicious food. To contact Morgan, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each January I fall for the romance of a fresh start and decide to make a new year’s resolution. Though my determination starts strong, by the time March rolls around odds are I have entirely forgotten what resolution I even made. Like most everyone, my list of failed resolutions outnumbers the list of those I’ve completed.
However there have been years of exceptions. The successful years hold one thing in common: each resolution centers on creating a greater impact for someone other than myself.
When I set a resolution purely based on my own self-interest, I give up. Comforting myself by saying “Hey, I wasn’t so bad to begin with. No shame in giving up and staying the same.” But if I believe that my resolution has the potential to create a bigger impact I feel more responsibility to hold myself accountable. Thus, I am more likely to approach the resolution with purpose and passion.
Therefore I’ve given up setting personal resolutions - I pretty much like myself the way I am, anyway. Instead, my 2020 resolution tackles the bigger issue of food waste.
I cringe at the amount of food I toss. Scraps I’m unsure what to do with or food I let spoil by opting to eat something else. Each time I throw something out, I visualize myself throwing away my money. I visualize those who would gladly take the food I regulate to the back of the fridge until it becomes unrecognizable. I visualize my own carbon footprint growing as my garbage can fills.
I’m ashamed at myself but I am not alone in my guilt. According to the USDA, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. On a global scale, basically one third of the food we grow is thrown away. Americans waste nearly $160 billion in food a year.
Negating the amount of money I could save by limiting my food waste, my resolution is driven by two main factors. First, I want to reduce my carbon footprint. Second, people are starving all over the world and yet here I am throwing away produce I was too lazy to prepare before it spoiled.
For a long time, I felt hopeless in regards to climate change. I told myself “Oh. I am just one person. What difference can I make?” Playing into my naivety brought me comfort until I started to understand the negative environmental impact of my “only one person” mindset. Abstract and perhaps uncomfortable, when I - a single person - waste food, I also waste all the work that goes into growing it, harvesting it, and transporting it. That’s a ton of energy. According to the World Resources Institute, if food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the U.S.
With that information, I have two options: I can feel overwhelmed and helpless. Or I can decide to make some changes. But where to start? Luckily with food waste gaining so much attention lately, there are plenty of resources to help me accomplish my new year resolution. After scouring online articles, sustainability books, and seeking advice from knowledgeable sources who also care about reducing food waste like the Urbivors LLC founders, I’ve compiled a guide I’ll resort to throughout this year until it becomes my habit, my mantra, my lifestyle.
Donate. Plenty of local missions accept food I would otherwise toss. Is the expiration date on that can approaching before I know what I want to do with it? Then I better take it to a food pantry where it will be put to better use. Jacob, Urbivors LLC co-founder, suggests donating to places like Cherry Street Mission, St Paul's Mission Ministries, Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank, Food Recovery Network (for the University of Toledo and surrounding area), Beach House Family Shelter, and Aurora Project.
Consider a local delivery service. Urbivors LLC’s delivery system serves a purpose greater than convenience. By delivering from local farms and small grocers, they decrease the distance needed to bring the food from the farm to your plate. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions, traffic, and creates stronger local economies. It also can decrease food waste that is generated during transit in the food supply chain.
Get creative with in-season produce. Sure, sometimes I want mangos and dragonfruit, but by buying those items from a grocery store I’m encouraging the store to continue sourcing those items, regardless of the distance and energy required to get them in store. Instead of letting my cravings rule, I should be guided by what is in season especially since it tastes better anyway. Plus they can be sourced locally. Urbivors encourages in-season eating by providing recipes on their website for a delicious and guilt-free meal.
Learn to read expiration date labels. I’m guilty of tossing items that reach the expiration date even if they appear safe to eat. But expiration dates on items, I’m realizing, mean very little for the consumer. There is little standardization set for these labels, leading to confusion on the part of consumers. According to the USDA “with the exception of infant formula, if the date on a food product passes during home storage, it should still be safe and wholesome if handled properly, until spoilage is evident.”
Make friends with Smoothies and Soups. I’m a big plant eater, but sometimes I cannot bring myself to finish all the beets, kale, or carrots I bought at the farmer’s market before they spoil. If I know I won’t get around to eating certain veggies and fruits, I can opt to blend them together and make a smoothie or freeze them for soup later on.
Talk. I admit I spend an obnoxious amount of my conversations talking about food waste lately. But the more I talk about it, the more likely someone is to begin considering their own food waste. Soon that “I’m only one person” mentality translates to “I’m only one person, but maybe I can convince one more person, who can then convince one more.” Suddenly my one-effort is multiplied by three.
Commit and Embrace. Lastly and most importantly, with each bite, I should practice gratitude. Regardless of whether or not I want to eat something, if it’s going bad in a day I need to eat it that night. Instead of doing so begrudgingly, I should do so with gratitude. Each bite should be accompanied with a sense of thankfulness. How fortunate I am to have this nutritious meal.