With the holiday season upon us, many of us are surrounded by abundance. Abundance of family, friends, joy, stress, shopping, decorations, and food. While we can’t control how many kids cousin Tommy decided to have, or stop one of said kids from making a human paper chain from your window curtains, we can control what we do with our food. 

A growing population might lead us to believe that we need to produce more food, yet food waste in America is astronomically higher than other countries. In fact, according to Feeding America, of the 1.4 billion pounds of food discarded every year, Americans contribute 80 billion of those pounds. That’s about 40% of the entire U.S. food supply. 

But why/how do we waste so much food? Well, the answer isn’t so simple. However, it is largely grained in human behavior and understanding. For example, how many of you discard food simply because of the “expiration” labels like “sell by”, “use by”, “best by”, “enjoy by”? What if I told you that those dates mean absolutely nothing regarding food safety? Yet, more than 80 percent of Americans are the first to discard perfectly safe food because of those labels.  

Now, there are of course many other kinks in the supply chain causing us to waste food like overproducing certain crops, disrupted product distribution, and poor product management. But like with nutrition coaching, the focus is on controlling what you can control. Some of those ways include:

  1. Shopping smart: Make a list (including quantities!) of the things that you need. Go shopping in your home first and see if you can cross off any of those items. 
  2. Store food properly: Certain foods like bananas include ethylene gas when ripening that can cause other fruits to ripen faster like peaches, pears, tomatoes, and avocado.
  3. Be kind to “ugly” food: those foods are often the first to go at a supermarket because, as consumers, we’ve demanded perfectionism in our products. A bruised or blemish item means nothing for food safety and often nothing for taste. 
  4. Preserve: at a party with a buffet style set up enough to feed 100 but only 10 people are there? Work events or special parties are a key contributor for consumer waste. Don’t be afraid to be “that” person who takes home some leftovers or freeze it. Learn to preserve, can, and save food. 
  5. Understand the dates: Almost EVERY date is meant to encourage you to throw your product away so you can buy more. The saying is that the “nose knows” when something has turned. If it smells off, it probably. For more on the impact of regulating date labels and what each date label means.

So, this holiday season, rather than contributing to more waste, consider finding ways to save your food, shop smarter, and use up what you have. For guidance on improving your health and well-being, or for tips on food preservation, consider working with a nutrition coach.