Reducing Food Waste

By: River Ostrow, MAEE Board Member

At MAEE’s recent Peace, Love, Coffee event, Jenna Totz, MAEE Board Member and Climate Change Education Manager at Climate Generation, mentioned the book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Climate Change. I was intrigued by this book but was especially intrigued by the chapter on food and food waste. In the food chapter, readers learn that “the food we waste contributes 4.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere each year.” This is astonishing not only because of the magnitude of waste but because it seems like such an easy problem to solve. After this event, I was inspired to reflect on strategies I have used to reduce food waste in my life as a single person and as a preschool teacher and also to seek out new ways to reduce my food waste. With that said, I’d like to offer five tips for reducing food waste.

  1. As much as possible, buy produce from farmers’ markets or enroll in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. One of the main reasons produce is thrown away before it even reaches the grocery store shelves is that it is not perfectly shaped or has a bump or bruise that will make it unattractive to consumers. Farmer’s markets and CSAs can offer this oddly shaped produce because they have had a chance to build relationships with consumers and know that they will consume the produce despite its visual imperfections.
  2. You might be asking, now I have all this beautiful produce in my house, how do I make sure it gets eaten? If you have kids (or picky grownups) around, always serve the vegetable in your meal first. To make it seem more fun, you can explain that you’re having a fancy dinner of courses, and the first course is always vegetables. There has been some research to show that kids will eat a larger portion of vegetables if that is the first thing they are served. Check out this article for more:
  3. Another way to make sure vegetables are eaten is to prepare them (cook them, pickle them, chop them, etc.) as soon as possible and all at once. Let’s face it, during a busy week, you may not want to take the time to steam a batch of beets. But if they are already steamed and ready to eat, you are much more likely to serve and eat them. Ask the farmer that you are buying from for ideas on how to prepare veggies. They are full of fun and creative ideas.
  4. Okay, now your fridge is full of wonderfully fresh, prepared food but it is still not being eaten. How do you prevent the gut-dropping feeling you get every time you clean out the fridge and find at least one old, moldy dish that needs to be tossed? Mount a whiteboard to the front of your fridge. Any time you add leftovers, produce, or anything else that needs to be eaten in a timely manner to your fridge, write that food on the whiteboard as well. Establish a system where food is erased from the whiteboard once it is eaten. Also, try to maintain your fridge as a grocery store maintains their shelves. When you add newer food, put that food towards the back of the fridge and move older food to the front.
  5. You are not perfect and you should never overeat just to make sure your food doesn’t spoil. What else can you do to prevent food waste? Anytime you buy yogurt, save the containers. You can use these containers to freeze food that you know isn’t going to be eaten or to give food away to family or friends that you know your family can’t finish. The EPA has developed a food recovery hierarchy that describes the most efficient use of food as a resource. The hierarchy is as follows: 1. Source Reduction 2. Feed Hungry People 3. Feed Animals 4. Industrial Uses 5. Composting 6. Landfill/Incineration. If you have access to animals that can eat leftovers, feed them! If not, composting is most people’s next viable option. We are lucky in the Twin Cities to have composting programs that are free and easy to use. If you live in Ramsey County, find more details about where you can bring your compost here: Minneapolis has a residential organics recycling program you can sign up for here: And of course, you can always start your own compost in your backyard!
Good Luck on your journey to less food waste! Even small changes can really make a difference.