Wasted Food Dude–Priorities…

Here’s the latest installment of my food waste advice column, Dear Wasted Food Dude, which also runs on BioCycle‘s site and their e-bulletin, BioCycle Food Recycling News

Related: send questions! All food-waste-related queries are welcome–big or small, true or false, named or anonymous. Send stuff to wastedfood {at} gmail or @wastedfood.

Dear Wasted Food Dude,

What would you pick as the most important choice consumers can make to reduce food waste on their end or the production end?
—Adam Hallihan, Darien, IL

Wow Adam,
I’m impressed. You’ve asked a question that’s both a real softball and essential!

And your question begs another one: what do you mean by “most important?” And how much of an impact do you believe one person’s actions have on the food system?

The reason I got all Socratic there is because you could interpret the most important choice to be the one that results in the most tons of avoided food waste. Or the highest number of meals saved, the largest reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or just the most dollars saved.

Since you’re not here to specify what you mean — one of the drawbacks of a write-in advice column — I’ll answer all four interpretations of “choice.” Fortunately, last Spring’s ReFED Roadmap has us covered. That handy study tabulated the most effective solutions for each desired outcome (and even a few others).

For instance, if you most care about reducing GHG emissions, than you’d choose composting. That means doing your part by composting at home or even encouraging municipal or fee-based composting.

To maximize dollars saved, standardized date labels is the choice to emphasize. Basically making expiration dates easier to understand.

And if meals saved is your top priority, than you’d choose to focus your efforts on donation tax incentives. That means bugging your elected official to change the federal tax code to incentivize donation of excess food. Probably not what you were hoping to hear, but you never know…

One caveat: The ReFED Roadmap downplays farm-level loss. And so it likely downplays solutions for that same segment of the food chain. I know you asked about impacting food production. One choice (in your own small, but important way) is by helping increase acceptance of imperfect fruits and vegetables. That means shopping at markets that feature produce that’s the “wrong” shape, size or color. Most likely that will be a farmers’ market or farm stand, but increasing numbers of supermarkets are selling (and usually branding) this “ugly” or odd-sized produce. Your task: buy it!

Zooming out, my overall advice would be base your choice on what you control. For most people, that means household food. Since we tend to discard about 25 percent of the food we purchase, you can choose to be more careful and conscientious about how much food you buy. More specifically, it’ll probably help to make more frequent, but smaller quantity, food shopping trips. And don’t buy a perishable item if you aren’t sure when you’ll use it.

Need some incentive? Pretend you have to pay a fine for every pound of food you throw away or compost.  You know what? Let’s make that an actual fine, paid weekly to yours truly. Oh wait, you already are fining yourself by squandering the money spent on food you discard.

So there you have it — several choices for you. Maybe what I should have asked was “What’s your definition of ‘one choice’”?

The choice is yours …

—WFD

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