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The Cost of Food Waste: Saving Food on Thanksgiving

Posted Nov 20 2012 1:00am

supermarket waste

There are consequences to our national habit of sending food to landfills. American food waste has significant environmental, economic, and cultural ramifications.

On average, Americans waste 40 percent of our food supply, which is more than 1400 calories of food per person per day, reports a study by a team of National Institute of Health researchers . The cost of food waste is $136 billion nationally, or about $600 per household each year.

In other words, the food we waste is more than enough to feed the nearly 20%  of Americans experiencing food insecurity and hunger this holiday season. 

According to WastedFood.com , wasting food squanders the time, energy, and resources—both money and oil—used to produce that food. Increasingly, great amounts of fossil fuel are used to fertilize, apply pesticides to, harvest, and process food. Still more gas is spent transporting food from farm to processor, wholesaler to restaurant, store to households, and finally to the landfill.

Food waste now accounts for more than one quarter of the total freshwater consumption and about 300 million barrels of oil per year!

And if that weren’t enough, food rotting in landfills contributes to global warming. Landfills are America’s primary source of methane emissions, and the second-largest component of landfills are organic materials.

When food decomposes in a landfill, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. Furthermore, wet food waste is the main threat to groundwater or stream pollution in the event of a liner leak or large storm.

Food does NOT belong in landfills!

An Ounce of Prevention

Given the prevalence of food waste, what can we do to keep it out of landfills? The Environmental Protection Agency provides a useful resource with its Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy . At the top of the list is “source reduction,” or, in laymen’s terms, buying less. That means planning dinners, making specific shopping lists, and sticking to them. At restaurants, this means ordering sensibly and taking home leftovers.

Reducing waste also means buying locally produced food as much as possible. If farmers have strong local demand for their products, and can deliver foods often fresh-picked the day before, there is naturally less spoilage and waste. And with strong local farm markets and CSA programs, you are less likely to buy more than you need for the week.

The Best Ways to Deal With Food Waste

After source reduction, feeding hungry people through food recovery or gleaning is the next best way to curb food waste. Food-recovery groups rescue edible but unsellable food from supermarkets (see photo above), restaurants, and institutional kitchens. Gleaning, meanwhile, is the practice of picking crops that a farmer plans to leave in the field. Whole fields are often left unharvested because the crop’s market price won’t justify the expense.

Feeding animals comes next in the hierarchy, so don’t feel bad about slipping your scraps to Spot. On small farms, hogs, cows, chickens and other livestock were traditionally fed household food waste, and on a larger scale they could be fed commercial food waste today. Many small and mid-size farmers would be thrilled to reduce their feed costs while diverting food from landfills.

Fats and greases can be diverted to rendering plants that make soap. If you’re brave enough, you can try this at home. Increasingly, used cooking oil is being used as a fuel source for biodiesel vehicles, or “grease cars,” an engine conversion to which, if you’re brave enough, you can also try at home.

Another waste-to-energy scheme is anaerobic digestion. While it’s not yet on the EPA’s hierarchy, the process harnesses bacteria to convert food and yard waste into bio-gas that can power vehicles or create electricity. Americans have long used the process to create energy from animal manure, but businesses on both coasts will soon use the process to transform supermarket and municipal food waste into power.

At the very least, food should be composted . Many individuals, schools, universities, hospitals, and municipalities have been doing so for years. Composting costs roughly the same as regular waste collection and, depending on landfill tipping fees, can be even cheaper.

What comes at a high price, however, is wasting a resource like food by sending it to landfills. When that happens, we squander the time, money, resources, and effort that went into producing that item while ignoring the environmental impact. That’s no way to celebrate the season of gratitude!

In the spirit of not wasting food, here are two easy and delicious recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers…

Black Friday Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup leftover mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes or yams (or combination)
  • 1/2 cup leftover cubed or shredded cooked turkey
  • 1/2 cup leftover cooked cut green beans
  • 1/2 cup leftover turkey gravy
  • 1 cup leftover prepared stuffing
  • 2 Tbsp. butter or coconut oil, melted
Directions
  1. Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Thoroughly grease a 9-inch glass pie plate.
  2. Spread mashed potatoes or yams onto the bottom and up the sides of the greased pie plate. Fill potato crust with the turkey, green beans, and gravy. Smooth stuffing on top of the turkey and gravy to create a top crust.
  3. Brush top of pie with melted butter or coconut oil. Bake pie until stuffing is golden and crispy, about 40 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Turkey Soup with Root Vegetables

Ingredients

Part 1 – Stock

  • 1 roast turkey carcass, cut into pieces
  • 12 cups cold, pure water
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 Spanish onion, chopped
  • 1/4 bunch Italian, flat-leafed parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 whole black peppercorns
Part 2 – Soup
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 pound rutabagas, peeled and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. minced Italian, flat-leafed parsley
  • 2 cups pulled turkey meat (optional)
  • salt and black pepper to taste
Directions
  1. Bring the turkey carcass and water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Skim off and discard any scum that forms.
  2. Add the chopped celery, chopped carrots, chopped Spanish onion, 1/4 bunch parsley, bay leaves, and peppercorns and return to a simmer.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 3 hours. Strain the turkey broth through a mesh sieve and skim off any fat that floats to the surface.
  4. While the stock simmers, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the red onion; cook until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the diced celery, diced carrots, parsnip, and rutabaga; cook 5 minutes more.
  6. Stir in the garlic and chopped parsley, and cook for 1 minute more.
  7. Pour in the turkey broth, add pulled turkey meat (if using), season to taste with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer over high heat.
  8. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the vegetables are nearly tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
  9. Cover and remove the pot from the heat.
  10. Serve and enjoy!
Originally published December 2009

Shared with Seasonal Celebration Sunday, Sunday School, Mix it Up Mondays, Natural Living Monday, Melt in Your Mouth Monday, Monday Mania, Better Mom Mondays, Homestead Barn Hop, Gluten Free Mondays,  Fat TuesdaysSlightly Indulgent TuesdaysTasteful Tuesdays,   Titus 2sdaysAnti-Procrastination TuesdaysLiving Green Link UpFamily Table TuesdayHearth & Soul HopFrugal Tuesday TipTitus 2 Tuesday ,  Teach Me Tuesdays,   Kids in the KitchenBackyard Farming ConnectionTasty Tuesday,   Domestically Divine TuesdaysTutorial TuesdayThe Gathering Spot,   Tiny Tuesday Tip , Whole Food Wednesdays, Real Food Wednesdays, Allergy Free Wednesdays, Wildcrafting Wednesdays, Party Wave Wednesdays, Healthy 2day Wednesday, Women Living Well, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, The Mommy Club, Gluten Free Wednesdays, Creative @ Home, Wicked Good Wednesdays, Adorned from Above, Wicked Awesome Wednesdays, Homemaking Linkup, Creative Juice, Keep it Real, Natural Living Linkup, Your Green Resource, Simple Lives Thursday, Thrifty Thursday, Pennywise Platter, Tastetastic Thursday, Full Plate Thursday, Tasty Traditions, Gluten Free Fridays, Fight Back Fridays, Freaky Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, Farm Girl Friday, Foodie Friday!

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