Remember when your mother told you to finish your meatloaf because there are starving kids in Africa? Turns out she was on to something important. Food waste is at an all-time high in the U.S. and other industrialized countries, creating an urgent need for food waste reduction efforts.
Food waste reduction goes much deeper than finishing the last couple of green beans on your dinner plate. From food items that go bad in our refrigerators to produce that’s left to rot on the vine because it’s not cosmetically perfect, it’s mind-blowing how much edible food goes unused in the U.S.
Still not convinced that food waste is a problem? Then consider this: According to the USDA and other sources, approximately one-third of the available food in the U.S. is thrown away.
For every two pounds of food we consume, another pound of food is sent to the landfill. As it decomposes, discarded food creates massive amounts of methane — a greenhouse gas that is a primary contributor to climate change.
Here are some other food waste facts to think about:
- 133 billion pounds of food are wasted each year in the U.S. — that’s more than 20 pounds of food per person per month.
- Each year, consumers in industrialized nations waste an amount equal to the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (roughly 230 million tons).
- Food is the single largest source of waste in landfills, outpacing both paper and plastic.
- The annual cost of food waste totals $165 million — approximately the same amount of money it would take to end extreme poverty worldwide.
The numbers don’t lie. We have a food waste problem and whether you want to admit it or not, it’s not just restaurants and grocery stores that are to blame. We’re all responsible for wasting food — and that means we’re all responsible for food waste reduction.
What does food waste reduction have to do with faith?
The issue of food waste reduction has spiritual and ethical implications, especially for Christians. Why? Because in addition to encouraging us to be good stewards of our resources, scripture invites us to lead lives characterized by of gratitude and humility.
Food waste reduction honors God and is part of a spiritually responsible life:
- When we waste food, we willingly discard God’s gift of provision and devalue the work of the farmers and laborers who fill our cupboards. By reducing the amount food we waste, we restore dignity, respect and gratitude to the cycle of production and consumption.
- Food waste is a symptom of a consumer culture run amok. When it’s done for the right reasons, food waste reduction is an act of defiance against consumerism and a prophetic choice for a simpler, more intentional way of being.
- Discarded food has an environmental impact. There’s a clear biblical case for environmental action and food waste reduction is another way to practice responsible stewardship toward creation.
But one of the most compelling reasons for Christians to practice food waste reduction is that it allows us to stand in solidarity with the poor. Frankly, it’s unconscionable that we waste a third of the available food in the U.S., while thousands of children and adults are still starving to death in Africa, Syria and other countries.
Here’s what Pope Francis said about the issue of food waste in 2013:
This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value. Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry.
Intentional food waste is a sin, pure and simple. Food waste reduction a redemptive act — a spiritual practice through which we share the light and life of Christ with the world.
7 simple ways to reduce food waste at home
There are lots of ways to practice food waste reduction in your everyday life. To help you get started, the EPA offers a list of practical tips for reducing food waste in your home, including:
- Plan ahead. Weekly meal planning reduces waste and lowers grocery costs by limiting unnecessary food purchases.
- Use it up. To avoid buying new ingredients, try to focus on recipes with ingredients that are already in your pantry or refrigerator.
- Buy strategically. Buying bulk is fine — but only if you actually use the food you purchase. Many of us buy bulk and end up throwing most of it away because we bought more than we needed.
- Invest in proper storage containers. Consider ramping up your food storage game by investing in containers to keep food fresh for longer periods of time.
- Eat leftovers. Think you’re too good to eat leftovers? You’re not. If you aren’t excited about eating leftovers for lunch, consider designating one night a week as a “leftover dinner” to clean out the fridge.
- Donate extra food. If you have food that you know you can’t consume, consider donating it to a local food cupboard or soup kitchen.
- Compost. Think about composting kitchen scraps to reduce the amount of food waste at the local landfill.