What Is Food Sustainability & How Can You Contribute To It? (DETAILS)
Food and sustainability are important to the developing world, yet food waste has always been a problem.
Forty percent of food in the United States go to waste every year, according to NRDC’s 2012 Farm-to-Fork-to-Landfill report. This means that Americans are throwing away an estimate of $165 billion on food – from spoiled produce to uneaten leftovers – making the U.S. one of the largest culprits in food waste.
But that’s not all. Aside from solid waste that contributes to tons of greenhouse gases, food production companies are also wasting energy and environmental resources used to grow the food.
The Good News
Fortunately, the U.S government has begun to take food waste reduction seriously as of this year, as evidenced by the U.S. Food Waste Challenge. Here are other efforts already done by food companies to reduce food waste.
The Cool-Down Effect
Produce lasts longer when stored in a cool environment. Long days under the sun during harvest and even longer journeys by truck to the grocery stores can result in fruits and vegetables that need to be eaten immediately. With the development of refrigeration, perishable items can remain at an ideal temperature along the chain of production, from field to store, giving them a longer shelf life and ultimately reducing food waste.
Fragile fruits and veggies benefit from packaging that prevents bruising and rotting. Strawberries are packed in the field so when they are loaded into the trucks they do not become damaged. Packaging warehouses pick the fruit out of moving water chutes that cushion the fruit as it rolls along the production line. Ready-to-use salad mixes are packaged in plastic bags that keep the atmosphere inside delicately controlled to extend the life of the lettuce. Even waxes help produce stay fresh longer, helping more of it end up at the table and less end up in the trash.
Much of the reduction in food waste is due to the fact that food companies now take control of where the food ends up. For example, customers who purchase broccoli often consume just the florets, tossing the stems. Some companies have begun removing the stem before selling the product, using the often-neglected stump in their coleslaw mixes.
Companies that slice and dice their produce before shipping it to consumers make better use of the waste materials than restaurants and home consumers might. For example, Gills Onions in California provides onions to a large variety of companies. However, those onions are pre-chopped. Gills is able to use the discarded onions and skins into methane, which is in turn burned to power the onion processing plant.
What can we do?
Of course, consumers can always take steps to reduce food waste themselves. Being environmentally and socially conscious is a start. If we eat exactly what we sow, we can create food social responsibility and a sustainable production environment.
Another way to reduce food waste is by purchasing only what we know we will eat, store perishable items properly and compost appropriate items. When large-scale companies and individuals work together, food waste is reduced and sustainability in the food industry can be achieved.