If You Don’t Want It, Share It: Tips to Prevent Food Waste

I’ve seen some pretty terrible things in my life, but few things could prepare me for what I saw in my beloved office’s trash bin: an unexpired, seemingly unharmed quarter of a red velvet cake left to rot in the trash. I’m still grieving.

Over the past few years at Global Connections, I’ve encountered both sides of the food waste spectrum too many times to count:

  • A coworker happily offered me the fries he didn’t order. Bless him.
  • Another coworker was cleaning out his fridge and throwing out anything past its “Best if Used by” dates. I commandeered as many as I could carry while scolding his decisions.
  • Someone left a to-go box on the break room table with “Free” on it. It was a fine post-lunch lunch.

Food is meant to be consumed, not tossed. So when I see a statistic from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that says Americans let 40 percent of their food go to waste, I think of forgotten morsels like that cake and I want to weep.

In its food waste report, published in 2012, the NRDC went on to say that Americans throw away $165 billion worth of food each year (that’s 20 pounds per person, per month).

It’s staggering without even considering that there are still many people who have trouble feeding their families day to day.

SHARING IS CARING.

If you don’t want your food, someone else might (says I, the human garbage disposal). Some ways to share:

  • Offer it to your department or someone you know.
  • Have a potluck, which is the best form of both mass food consumption and disposal.
  • Send an email to the company or put it in a public place with a note on it.

Note: If you set food out and no one claims it in an appropriate amount of time, it’s your responsibility to toss it or save it for another day.

USE LEFTOVERS AS INGREDIENTS.

There are people out there who “don’t do leftovers,” which boggles my mind. I go to restaurants and plan meals thinking about what dish would make the best leftovers because it a.) saves money and b.) saves me from having to cook more. But I get it – leftover food is not fresh and, depending on the dish, it could actually become unappetizing (soggy salads, dried bread).

However, there is an alternative: Repurpose the scraps in other recipes.

  • Throw your leftover steak into a stew.
  • Mix your leftover roasted chicken into a stir fry.
  • Blend your leftover fruits and veggies into a smoothie.

You can make your leftovers much more interesting if you think of them in terms of ingredients instead of meals. Plus, there are examples all over the Internet.

EXPIRATION DATES ARE NOT “THROW AWAY” DATES.

The “Best if Used by” dates are an indicator of the food’s peak freshness – not to be confused with safety. If you find food that is an acceptable period past this date, you just need to taste, smell or look at it to see if you’re OK with eating it. The “Sell By” date is for grocers to know when to take products off the shelves, so you might as well ignore this date.

Wasted food is not only inconsiderate to those who can’t afford it, but the collective heap of uneaten goods is detrimental to the environment. But if you do your part around your office to help prevent waste, then we’ll all be better (and fuller) for it.

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