Illustration: Hunter Christie
Imagine spending $150 on groceries, and then lobbing that food directly into the garbage. Now imagine doing that seven times a year. Outrageous, right? But that’s how much food Canadian households waste every year, says food-waste expert Martin Gooch. In Toronto, for example, single-family households discard about 275 kilos of food waste each year. That means one in four food purchases ends up in the garbage.
When we discard food, we’re not only throwing away money, but we’re also filling up landfills, squandering water and producing harmful methane gas. And that’s not to mention wasting what amounts to as much as 1,500 calories per day, enough to fill hunger gaps in the developing world or your own city. Here’s how to cut back on what you toss.
1. Track it Keep an eye on what you toss most often—then buy smaller amounts of the items that routinely become garbage.
2. Strategize with freshness Eat foods based on how quickly they spoil. Enjoy berries, peaches and leafy greens first, and store hardier apples, carrots and potatoes until the end of the week. Cook raw meat and fish within three days, or keep it in the freezer.
3. Serve kids smaller portions After-dinner food scraps are a huge source of waste—especially when kids decide they no longer eat that (once beloved!) food. Serve less, and offer seconds if they’re still hungry.
4. Make a list Before you head to the store, take a minute to see what you already have in your fridge and pantry. Sticking to a list makes you less likely to buy things you don’t need.
6. Store in your freezer Rely on frozen vegetables and fruit. They don’t spoil, you can use as much as needed, and they retain more vitamins in their frozen state than vegetables that wilt in the fridge do.
7. Don’t over-buy If you shop once a week, get only enough for that week. Be realistic, not idealistic, about how many restaurant visits or takeout meals you’ll have, and factor that into your buying decisions. If you can find the time, fit in two smaller shops instead of one big one each week to reduce spoilage.
8. Use all parts Most of us mindlessly toss food scraps that are actually edible. Try these ideas:
• Peel broccoli stems and shred the tender cores to make slaw
• Save poultry or fish bones to make soup broth
• Use leafy carrot tops or beet greens in salads or for pesto
• Try watermelon’s white rind in stir-fries (seriously!)
• Save squash seeds and roast them for a crunchy snack
9. Embrace flaws That lumpy, oddly shaped potato at the grocery store? It tastes the same as the perfect potato beside it. Many grocery stores are packaging imperfect produce, labelling it as such and selling it at a discount. This saves you money and prevents the grocery store or farm from throwing it away.
10. Repurpose leftovers Dinner is done, and you’ve made too much food. Don’t throw it away! Come up with a way to use it in the kids’ lunches or turn it into a different dinner for tomorrow.
Regardless of your best efforts, there will always be some food scraps. Setting up a home compost bin is the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of them. And hey, it’s free fertilizer come spring!