Wasting food is more than just a moral issue

Every week for the past months, I have thrown out at least five bags of kale mixes that I had forgotten about. I felt guilty each time, because not only was I wasting food, but money as well.

Food waste goes beyond just moral or financial issues. It’s also an environmental issue that needs to be addressed by both consumers and retailers alike. We can start with ourselves by being practical and realistic about how much we can really consume.

Food waste occurs during every step of the process —from the farm to the store to your dinner plate. It happens when individuals don’t plan out their meals properly and end up discarding left overs. I’ve participated in the latter and so have many others.

According to Tristram Stuart, who did a TED Talk on food waste, 1.3 billion tons of perfectly edible food is wasted every year due to cosmetic standards, consumers’ expectations to have shelves filled with abundant choices, and buffet restaurants encouraging customers to fill their plates with large amounts of food. One third of our food is thrown away in landfills, where methane is generated due to the decomposed waste. Methane plays a role in the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer.  

 Being a college student while working and sharing a small space with three other people means that sometimes I don’t have the time nor the space to cook my own meals. As a result of this, I’m constantly planning meals, buying groceries that I don’t have the time to prepare and then throwing most of it out at the end of the week. And when I do cook, I never finish it and it ends up in the garbage.

This is a common practice by most American households, who are responsible for about 27 million tons of food waste, according to ReFED.

When I throw out leftovers that have gone bad, I don’t really think much of it. In order to ease the guilt I feel when I waste food, I tell myself that I’m just one person and that I don’t do enough to create a negative impact. Sometimes, we look at our actions at a microscopic level and forget that we contribute to everything that happens around us — everything we do creates an impact. Sometimes what I don’t realize — and what many of us sometimes forget — is that we are one of many. Food waste is an issue because so many of us are contributing.

Getting into a minimalist mindset when it comes to food will help reduce food waste. We have to start being realistic when buying food, meaning that we should avoid buying more than the amount of food we know we consume. This requires being organized and remembering to eat leftover foods. If leftover dishes get boring, then add something else to it to alter the flavor. If it can’t be helped and the food must be thrown away, instead of letting it rot in the refrigerator, compost it. Composting enriches the soil and generates less methane than landfills.  

It’s time for this society to reject the idea that only one person can’t possibly make an impact, because that is far from true. As long as we’re wasting food, no matter how small it may be, we are contributing to the collective issue. Reducing food waste in order to save our environment starts with changing our consumerism outlook in life.