No one leaves the grocery store and thinks, “Boy, I can’t wait to throw away almost half this food!” Yet that’s what US households do every year – but why? Improper planning, confusion over sell-by dates, and the preference for beautiful produce all play a part.
By and large, we waste more produce than any other grocery we buy.
When food is cheap and seemingly always available to us, it’s easy to toss and replace. Writing about food waste for The Atlantic in 2014, Elizabeth Segran pointed to both the shoppers who refuse to buy imperfect-looking fruit and the grocers who refuse to stock wonky produce. “Grocery stores routinely trash produce for being the wrong shape or containing minor blemishes,” Doug Rauch, the former president of the Trader Joe’s Company, told her.
And that’s the food that even gets that far. The UN estimates about 17% of food grown in North America is lost or wasted on the farm.
What can be done?
While it is an uphill battle, it’s not a lost cause. To combat improper planning, you need to plan. Look over your calendar, create a menu and shopping list, and then (the really hard part) only buy what’s on the list. When you have a plan for what you buy it’s less likely to go into the bin. Not sure how to store what you’ve got? This is an excellent resource.
The dates on packaging can be a little misleading, so it’s best to use your nose. Any ‘best by’, ‘best before’, and ‘sell by’ dates are just suggestions. Only expiration dates (usually found on formula and baby foods) are hard and fast with no wiggle room. Everything else should be okay as long as you store it properly.
In the case of aesthetics...just get over it. Not every apple is the perfect apple. Are you chopping it up for a pie or putting on the cover of a magazine? Ugly Fruit & Veg maintains a list of shopping and delivery options for less-than-perfect produce. You may be surprised to find that your homely orange tastes just as good as the gorgeous one.