Weekend Musings: Food Waste

I will readily admit that I’m not an easy roommate. Ask my roommates from my year in Newark, and they will tell you that the thing I was most meddlesome about was food waste. I can recall one moment when a roommate was going to throw something away that was a bit past its prime, and as she carried it toward the garbage, I sharply inhaled and stared in horror. I quickly became the food waste police (which I do not recommend as it will not make you very likable ?).

Strawberry Applesauce Oatmeal by The Oatmeal Artist

People say we need genetically modified crops to help solve world hunger–that starving populations would have the food they need if we could just grow more ears of corn. But food production isn’t the problem. It’s food distribution.

We have plenty of food. But most of it ends up in the garbage.

The United Nations Environment Programme and the World Resources Institute claim that around a third of food produced worldwide is wasted during either production or consumption. In the United States in particular, 30-40% of food goes to waste. (Source)

This is not to be confused with the old moniker, “Clean your plate. There are starving people in Africa.” The mashed potatoes on your plate will never make it to a malnourished child in another country. It’s already in front of you.

Here’s a more accurate way to think of it. Americans (and people from other industrialized countries) buy a lot of food–much of which they don’t ever eat. Instead of eating those leftovers before they go bad, they buy more groceries and make another meal. Alternatively, they dine out, where they receive massive portions, eat more than necessary, and toss the rest. Because this buying-more-than-necessary is so ubiquitous, stores and restaurants continue to stock and sell more to match consumer demand. If the demand for food were less excessive here, food supply might be better allocated and distributed to other populations, particularly those whose climate is not conducive for agriculture.

Humans aren’t the only ones sucking up our food supply. Our obsession with meat is sucking up a lot of our grains as well.

Because many industrialized countries eat so. much. meat, the meat industry has switched cattle from their natural grass diet to one of cheap grains that are subsidized by taxpayers. This was a cost-reducing, profit-seeking move to meet the demand for meat, meat, and more meat.

It is also logistical: if you’re going to house hundreds of thousands of cattle on one massive lot, there’s not likely to be enough grass to feed all of them. Thus, half of the grain produced in the United States goes right to livestock feed, a move that would be unnecessary if Americans ate far less meat. Oh, and then there’s the fact that 20% of this meat we “demand” is never actually consumed. Yep, we waste a fifth of the animals we slaughter. This wastes not just the animals themselves, but the grains we used to feed them.

(Psst . . . there’s also the fact that the unnatural diet of grains, as opposed to grass, causes cattle to produce more gas, increasing levels of methane in the air.)

While much food waste happens during production, a huge portion happens in homes and restaurants. In other words, you have some control over this issue.

I’m not talking about anything drastic or sacrificial. Many of these moves can be small changes that–when added together over time–can have a significant positive effect.

Here are some tricks to reducing your food waste as much as possible!

  • Use your freezer. I bought a large plastic tupperware specifically to use for frozen banana slices. As soon as my bananas reach a state of brown, I slice them up into this tupperware. This allows me to 1) make banana soft serve, 2) prevent the bananas from spoiling before I can use them all, and 3) always have bananas available, even when I need to go grocery shopping! I have also thrown raspberries, blueberries, hulled and quartered strawberries, and sliced peaches in the freezer to use later. The Shamrock Oat Smoothie below was made with sliced bananas from the freezer!Shamrock Oatmeal Smoothie #Vegan #OatmealArtist
  • If your oatmeal doesn’t please you, try to “rescue” it before tossing.
  • Save for later! Have you ever made a recipe that left just a few bites too many? Even if it isn’t enough for a full serving, you can tuck it in the fridge and either have it later for a small snack OR stir it into the next morning’s oatmeal.
  • Make a compote. Or a sauce. You can cook down large amounts of berries, apples, etc. and store it in the fridge to be used as a topping for oatmeal, (n)ice cream, pancakes, and more!Cinnamon Zucchini Oatmeal with Cherry-Rhubarb Compote by The Oatmeal Artist
  • Save your restaurant leftovers and turn it into tomorrow’s oatmeal. Crazy? Not really. If you have leftover scramble, stew, casserole, a mezze platter, soup, or a burrito, you could use all or parts of it (like the burrito innards) as a mix-in for a savory oatmeal! If you’re not a savory oatmeal fan, you could also serve it over rice or quinoa.
  • You can do the same thing with your own leftovers at home if you’re sick of eating them. Example: I once made ratatouille, but I got tired of eating it after the 50th day in a row. I pureed it, and it tasted quite like a marina sauce. I used it to make Savory Pizza Porridge!Pizza Oatmeal by The Oatmeal Artist
  • Make a big batch. If you have a ton of apples on their last breath, you can cook them all at once by making a large batch of Apple Pie Steel-Cut Oatmeal, for example, and reheat a serving at a time throughout the week. Similarly, large containers of wimpy strawberries and a cluster of brown-going-black bananas can be whipped into Strawberry Banana Baked Oatmeal.apple-pie-steel-cut-2-

In honor of food waste reduction, I will be publishing a new recipe next Friday showing how I repurposed some leftovers!

Final note: I am not perfect. Everyone has those days when their strawberries seem perfect one day and rotten the next. Do not hold yourself to unrealistic standards! These suggestions are tricks to make the most of the money you spend, but do allow yourself to be imperfect. 🙂


About Lauren Smith

Lauren is a herbivore, Slytherin, and connoisseur of oats. She is a former teacher who is currently studying to earn a master's degree in curriculum development. You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

9 Responses to Weekend Musings: Food Waste

  1. Dana says:

    I completely agree with this Lauren. I was just at a luncheon at my university, and I could not believe how much students filled their plates. They barely ate half of what they took. A waiter came by to collect dirty dishes and had to ask me if they had finished eating because she couldn’t tell and they had already left the table. Unbelievable.

  2. Thanks for speaking out about this Lauren! It’s something that really bothers me too. I can’t wait to see your repurposed oatmeal!

  3. Kiki says:

    I totally agree with this!! Thank you for reading my mind. I get so bothered by people wasting food that I’ve started to avoid social gatherings where there’s food–there’s always at least five people with weird eating habits like eating half of everything, picking out things they don’t like. They could have just taken less!
    I’m going to college this fall, and I’m afraid if I speak out my future roommate will hate me. But if I don’t speak out it’ll just become trapped.

  4. Heidi says:

    Gosh we must be twins! Food waste is something that is heart breaking to me and its a huge pet peeve of mine. I always eat up all my leftovers even if I have to eat it for a week. I refuse to throw it away. And if i get tired of it then I stick it in the freezer for another time. 🙂 I hardly ever go out to eat and if I do I make sure and take my leftovers home and eat them up. It kills me to watch people waste food. Thank you for bringing this to our attention!

  5. Kat says:

    I hate waste too! Last week, my cafeteria server made me get bread (even though I didn’t want it) because I wanted some sandwich toppings! Thankfully, I found a fri no who wanted the bread, but think about how much is wasted because of weird rules like that one!

  6. Giselle says:

    I’ve been raised not to waste food- even if a recipe turns out not so great, I can still salvage it! Recently, we switched to (well, I did, my dad, not as much) to grass fed meat. I highly encourage people to do this, as these kinds of practices can reverse desertification, and bring nutrients to the soil. You can also use all parts of the animal (organ and muscle to eat, bones for broth, render fat for cooking) while plants (specifically monocropping) can deplete soil of nutrients, and not all parts of most plants are not as nutrient dense as meat and broth- not to mention all the pesticides to grow them. Sorry for such a long comment, but I’m glad you brought attention to the subject!

  7. Cassie says:

    I absolutely agree with you on solving world hunger! It seriously frustrates me when people say that we need GMOs to grow more crops, but in reality, we just have to stop wasting the other unused fruits and vegetables that go in the garbage after they don’t sell! GMOs are just so harmful to the environment and to our health and it’s so not worth enduring the risks. I’m so glad we can agree on that point!

  8. I’m already the food waste police in my family! ? And if anybody has a problem with it, we just can’t be friends. Okay that’s a little extreme. It would be best if I calmly educate those who question my views. As a vegetarian who avoids GMO’s, I strongly believe that developed societies are not aware of how their actions of producing genetically modified organisms, purchasing large restaurant portions, buying unnecessary groceries, and feeding crops to live farm animals worsens the issue. I have received flack for my ideal serving size, which is the standard size according to the FDA. But when I see my dining companions waste food, they get an earful from me. I hate it when people give me trouble for my food consumption when they eat less of their meals than I do. That’s why I pay close attention to portion sizing and try to give away leftovers to homeless people. I love your ideas towards reducing food waste, Lauren! You do an amazing job of teaching people that culinary possibilities are fun and endless! I can’t wait to see your post next week!!

  9. You and I would be friends I think haha. I HATE food waste so much and I use my freezer pretty exclusively. It makes me sad how much people waste. I can’t tell you the last time I had to throw something out because it went bad. Most things are salvageable or are really not past their prime at all, but people throw them out just because. Ugh. I also keep even just a few bites for later if I can’t finish everything. haha. I also wish more food places would get on the donation train like some places have with their food that would otherwise just be thrown out. There is so much waste in America in so many ways. Packaging and plastic is another huge hang up for me. If only people didn’t have such a “disposable” mindsest now-a-days, hopefully the green movement and eco friendly stuff will keep growing!

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