Are you on a budget and want to reduce your environmental footprint? FANPP student Katie Fisher discusses shopping tips to help you reduce food waste.
Growing up, Costco was our family’s second religion. It didn’t matter if it was the paprika used for a recipe once a year or the five dozen eggs a family of five consumed in a couple weeks: if it came in bulk, we bought it. When I was seven, our second freezer – yes, second freezer – broke. It was 9 a.m. and my dad lined my brother, sister and I up on the counter and armored us with a big spoon and napkin. He told us to eat the two gallons of ice cream until we either finished them or got sick. I’m pretty sure we all got sick before we were halfway through the Neapolitan ice cream. The rest went in the trash along with a lifetime supply of Hot Pockets and taquitos. Years later I wonder, “Why did we have that much food stocked?” Costco told us to, of course. It wasn’t until I had roommates in college that I realized my food upbringing was far from normal. The way I bought food, prepared food and thought about food was waste-centric, and I had no idea. Since then, I have made one major change to reduce wasted food and money. A simple action that yields big results: shop at the house before the store.
Before you make a grocery list, open the fridge and freezer and see what items are left on your shelf. Take inventory of the food that is fresh and incorporate it into your meals for the week. Grab that leftover zucchini and cook it into a bread, chop it up for a bowl of soup, or add it on top of the ramen that all young adults secretly stash. Freeze fruit to use for smoothies or to toss into yogurt later in the week. Whenever possible, reduce recipe sizes to fit the amount of the ingredients you already have. The same goes for foods with a longer shelf life; just because your three-pound bag of rice will be good for a long time does not mean that you should cook it so sporadically that it outlasts Tom Brady’s career with the Patriots. All you need to do is switch out the base of pasta recommended in that Pinterest recipe and use the rice you already have. Also, if you have never been a fan of chickpeas, it’s probably best to not buy 10 cans for $10. It’s unlikely that having them in your pantry will uncover a newfound love for them when you have gone your whole life despising even their smell (*cough cough* my mom).
These simple changes can help reduce food waste and save money. A 2010 report shows a third of the food supply in the U.S. is wasted. That’s over $150 billion worth of wasted food at retail and consumer levels. The New York Times depicts the findings of a report from the USDA that estimated monthly food waste for a family of four. Their waste can easily feed another person for a month, and I will gladly volunteer to be their trash can because this food looks good.
Imagine what this picture might look like for you today. I know for my family, it would be a lot more than what is pictured, and I am ashamed by that. That is why I shop smart now. Out of all food and drink waste, an estimated 64 percent is preventable, and of that, 55 percent of food was simply not used before expiration. That means that over a third of household food waste can be prevented through smart shopping. Buy what you need when you need it. Understand date labels and know when food is still edible despite the “best if used by” date telling you otherwise. Save yourself some money and help the environment while you’re at it.
Katie Fisher is a second-year FANPP student and hails from a background in agricultural economics. Her focus at Tufts Friedman School is to understand how food and nutrition policy affects consumers. Originally from Arizona, she loves to explore New England every chance she gets and can be found doing that or binge-watching Netflix most weekends.