Barren shelves, long queues, panic buying — a constant reminder of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The fear-based consumerist reaction is to stockpile food in fear of it running out. But what if COVID-19 is actually an opportunity to reframe our thinking. Could this be the wake-up call that gets us to understand the importance of local food systems and sustainable living?
Focusing on sustainably grown food results in a healthier lifestyle. Similarly, planning for the future is a way to invest in ourselves and by reducing waste, we save money. Sustainable living not only benefits the planet but improves our well-being too. With this in mind, the global pandemic can be seen as an opportunity to take actionable steps to inculcate sustainable living habits and reduce our food waste. Here, we discuss steps that you can take to reduce food waste and start living more sustainably:
Food-Related Sustainable Living Habits
Adapting more sustainable living habits through your food choices can aid both you and the planet. According to IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Change and Land, agriculture accounts for about 70% of global freshwater use. Agriculture is also a cause of loss in forest cover, further exacerbating the impact of climate change. To counter these problems with the current agricultural and food consumption model, here are some general food-related sustainable living tips:
- Eat more plants.
- Stop relying on a core ingredient – like chicken. This will ensure nutrition as well as prioritize sustainable food.
- Moderate your meat, red and white.
- Be more aware of what’s on the food packaging and labeling.
- Ensure your food is sourced and produced sustainably.
- Avoid eating seafood that is endangered. Support local fisher communities.
- Avoid foods that use palm oil — Palm oil production contributes to widespread deforestation.
Steps to Take to Reduce Food Waste
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food is the most commonly discarded single item in the United States. Food accounts for 22% of the total landfill waste nationwide. Across America, many people think there is an infinite supply of food, but thanks to COVID-19, we are realizing that this isn’t really the case. While COVID-19 has resulted in panic buying and stockpiling of food, it has also resulted in people being a lot more careful not to waste it. We as consumers need to continue this trend of using only what we need, so as to reduce our food wastage.
One way to do so is through mindful meal planning. Mindful meal planning can change eating habits, ensure the intake of healthy nutrients, inspire you to get creative in the kitchen, and of course, reduce food waste. Understanding what ingredients are needed for your meals helps to avoid purchasing foods you do not need. With this in mind, it’s best to create a shopping list and stick to it when buying food.
Additionally, storing your food correctly and practicing proper food hygiene is key to minimizing waste. While storage procedures vary depending on the type of food, age-old methods such as canning and pickling can maximize the shelf life of your food, thus reducing wastage.
Finally, it is vital to understand food labeling to reduce your food waste. Consumers generally throw away food based on the “sell-by” date, thinking that the food is unsafe to eat. However, the “sell-by” date is actually an indication for the store to know how long to keep the product on the shelf. The “best-before” date indicates a time frame for best quality and flavor, and the “use-by” date is the last date “recommended for use” at its optimal quality. So, surpassing the “use-by” date doesn’t necessarily mean that the food is off! This is something to be aware of before you throw away your food unnecessarily.
What Can You Do With Your Food Waste?
Not all food waste needs to go in the garbage. Some ideas for utilizing your food waste include:
- Donating leftovers you no longer want to those in need, or just giving them to busy friends who don’t have the time to cook.
- Upcycling food waste: Consider using your leftover or overripe fruits and vegetables to make jams and sauces that can bring flavor and nutrition to other food.
- Repurposing your food waste: Compost your vegetable and fruit scraps, and use them in your garden if you have one. You can also use your used coffee grounds, banana peels, and eggshells for your vegetable garden and/or plants.
In this uncertain time, don’t let fear reign. Instead, allow the global pandemic to change your perspective. Let this time inspire you to reduce your food waste and only consume what you really need. Together, let’s try to be less wasteful, and live more sustainably!