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These days, it’s hard to make pragmatic decisions when it comes to deciding what food is not only good for you, but good for the planet, too. We have to decide between farm-raised versus wild salmon; whether coffee is actually good for you; and if we should stop eating avocados because of excess water usage. It’s a lot to think about—and undeniably overwhelming. 

Related Reading: 11 Easy Dinners You Can Make with Basic Pantry Staples

That’s where Sophie Egan’s book “How to Be a Conscious Eater” comes into play. The former director of health and sustainability leadership at the Culinary Institute of America is here to help, providing a detailed examination of food in the modern era in her new book, which looks at everything from the benefit of organic food to superbugs and the food supply. Sophie hopes that, armed with the knowledge from her book, everyone will feel less intimidated and better equipped to make decisions about the food that’s coming from the earth and going into their bodies. 

How to Be a Conscious Eater: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others, and the Planet, $14.59 on Amazon

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Keep reading for an excerpt from the book, breaking down ways to waste less food at home. The section examines how much food is wasted in America (a whopping 40 percent!) and offers easy steps to prevent that kind of loss by becoming more attentive in shopping escapades and harnessing the power of leftovers.

Excerpted from How To Be A Conscious Eater: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others, and the Planet by Sophie Egan. Illustrations by Iris Gottlieb. Workman Publishing ©2020.

Top 5 Ways to Waste Less Food at Home

All told, more than 30 percent of all the food produced around the world never gets eaten. In the United States, it’s 40 percent. After going to all the trouble to produce food, we’re actually sending it to landfills. Food scraps contribute more volume to landfill than anything else. So, of all the things you can possibly do to lower your carbon footprint, wasting less food is by far one of the most effective. (The other is eating less red meat.)

At the same time, 40 million Americans go hungry every day. The problem isn’t producing enough food. In countries like the United States, the biggest issue is retailer and consumer tendencies, from over-buying and over-portioning to not being OK with “running out” of certain things in home pantries or on grocery shelves. Confusing “best by” dates don’t do us any favors. If we could just distribute one-third of the food that goes uneaten, it would feed all the food-insecure Americans who desperately need it. 

The reason you’re reading about this issue in the section on stuff that comes from the ground is that globally the two food categories most likely to be wasted are (1) fruits and vegetables and (2) roots and tubers. Some of our most nutritious crops—squandered! Yes, even in the United States, some food waste occurs on the farm or on its way to us: Produce got too ripe or was deemed not pretty enough or not uniform enough in size to be sold (so-called “ugly produce”). But nearly half of the problem is on us. (Google “Your Plan, Your Planet,” a fun interactive tool for wasting less food.) For example, in North America and Oceania alone, approximately 5.8 million tons of roots and tubers are wasted just at the consumption stage. That’s according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and it’s the equivalent of 1 billion bags of potatoes. Picture raw potatoes you forgot about in your kitchen pantry, trays of excess fries tossed after lunch in a school cafeteria, or all those breakfast potatoes left uneaten at brunch. 

Courtesy of “How to Be a Conscious Eater”

At home, there are effective steps you and your family can take to waste less food. Dana Gunders, a former senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, authored a fantastic book called the Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook. Her general advice is to apply the waste management mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” to food. 

1. Always use a shopping list. Making a list before grocery shopping is obvious, simple, and highly effective. Yet surprisingly few people use one. Those who do are less likely to succumb to impulse buys. Also, before you check out at the register, take a moment to review every item in your cart and make sure you have a plan for using each one. 

2. Of all the things not to waste, red meat is the most important. Not all food waste has the same impact on the planet. Tossing an uneaten hamburger wastes the water equivalent of taking a ninety-minute shower. For a tomato, it’s more like four or five minutes. So, in terms of lowering your carbon and water footprints—especially if eating less red meat feels like a tough lifestyle adjustment—not wasting the red meat you do purchase is a great place to start. What counts as red meat? Meat from mammals, which in the United States is usually beef, pork, and lamb. Common examples of things not to waste range from burgers you grill in the backyard to a supermarket deli sandwich you bring home to a broccoli beef stir-fry from your take-out order. 

3. Love your leftovers. Like produce, leftovers are one of the most commonly wasted types of food. This is one of several examples of how reducing food waste at home actually starts away from home: When you’re out, think before you order, aiming for no leftovers. If you have any, eat or freeze them within four days. Designate a section of the refrigerator as “eat this first.” Use certain days of the week to focus on your leftovers—Stir-Fry Fridays, say, or Waste-Less Wednesdays.

4. Make food visible. Fruits and vegetables are usually wasted because they spoil or get moldy. Make sure they don’t get pushed to the back of the fridge or buried in the crisper, or get dusty in a bowl on the table. Keep them where you’ll see them, and keep them looking ready to eat.

5. Pop it in the freezer. According to Gunders, you can freeze just about anything, including bread (best if you slice it), cheese (best if you shred it), and even milk and eggs (best if you scramble them raw out of their shells first). 

Header image by Peter Dazeley/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Amy Schulman is an associate editor at Chowhound. She is decidedly pro-chocolate.
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