In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are panic-buying groceries that may or may not be used before they expire, leading to unprecedented amounts of food waste. Meanwhile, restaurants and farms are having to throw out unsold and unused food and dairy products. To help lessen the impact, follow these tips to reduce your household’s food waste during the pandemic and beyond.
Food waste represents around 8% of greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown that humans waste one of every three food calories produced — enough to feed 3 billion mouths, about 10 times the population of the U.S. or 25% of the world’s 815 million undernourished people. Financially, food waste presents an additional burden; the average American family wastes $1,866 worth of food annually. But the pandemic could make these circumstances worse.
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According to the The New York Times, farmers and ranchers have been forced to dump tens of millions of pounds of food that they are unable to sell due to the closures of schools, restaurants and hotels. Amid these difficult times, they simply do not have the financial means to ship and distribute their produce. Dairy Farmers of America estimated that farmers are dumping upward of 3.7 million gallons of milk every day, and some chicken processors are smashing 750,000 eggs each week. Exporting excess food is difficult because the pandemic is affecting the entire world. The cost of crop harvesting and processing without the promise of profit is causing portions of the agriculture industry to face financial strains that they have never seen before.
Yet, Americans are continuing to see empty shelves at grocery stores, and, according to Feeding America, 98% of food banks in the United States reported an increased demand for food assistance since the beginning of March, and 59% of food banks have less food available. COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of the food supply chain.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has updated its food waste initiative to reflect additional issues presented by the novel coronavirus. WWF is also helping to bring people together from different food-related industries and schools to find new approaches to reducing food waste with Further With Food. The organization is also providing opportunities to teach and learn about sustainability, water conservation and the connections between food and the environment with Wild Classroom Daily Activity Plans.
April 29 was Stop Food Waste Day, a movement introduced in 2017 to help the world reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to halve food waste by 2030. Although a vast number of people around the world are experiencing difficult times, the coronavirus pandemic has also presented many with the opportunity to rethink their habits — including those involving food.
Plan your meals ahead of time to ensure that no food goes to waste. Even better, start food prepping so you have time to accomplish other things during the week. Something as simple as making a list or taking inventory of the food you already have in the kitchen before heading to the grocery store can save time, money and food.
Related: How to stock a vegan pandemic pantry
Try new recipes
If there was ever a time to try out those recipes from Pinterest, it is now. Browse social media, ask your friends, scour the internet for creative recipes; you may discover a new way to use those food items you stocked up on a while ago.
Preserve and freeze
Have some wilting beets in the vegetable crisper you won’t get to before the end of the week or leftover red onion you have no room for in future recipes? Do a quick-pickle to extend the life of your produce (don’t forget to follow correct pickling and canning procedures to avoid getting sick). Consider whether or not you can freeze something before throwing it out, too. For example, before your bananas have the chance to go bad, peel them and store them in the freezer to use for smoothies.
Related: Your guide to preserving, storing and canning food
Use every bit of food
Store unused mushroom stems, onion ends, herbs, carrot stubs and celery leaves in the freezer to use for broth. Save the carcass if you roast a whole chicken, too. Though it takes several hours to complete, making bone broth is super simple and a great way to get those added nutrients without having to purchase store-bought stock. Start with these recipes for simple bone broth and vegan vegetable broth by Minimalist Baker.
Learn a trick or two
If you notice that some of your produce is starting to shrivel in the refrigerator, revitalize them. Some vegetables, such as lettuce, are reinvigorated with an ice water bath. Asparagus will last longer if you keep the stalks moist by wrapping them with a damp paper towel or storing them upright in a glass of water in the fridge. Check out this infographic on how to make fresh food last longer.
Educate yourself on food labeling
Food labels can be intimidating for some shoppers, and sometimes consumers tend to err on the side of caution by tossing out food before it has truly gone bad. Don’t confuse the “best by,” “sell by” and “best before” labels. Check out the USDA website for some amazing resources for proper food storage and handling, including information on the FoodKeeper App for the best tips on food freshness and answers to common questions about food product dating.
Sharing is caring
During times of uncertainty, frustration and fear, humans are always stronger together. Though most of us are unable to see friends, family and neighbors in person for now, dropping off some extra food — if you can spare it — certainly goes a long way for those in need. Remember to only purchase what you need so that other members of your community have enough resources available to get by. Share recipes, donate extra food to your local food bank and remember — we’re all in this together!
Images via Jasmin Sessler, Ella Olsson, Hans, Tatiana Byzova