Before you scrap those potato peels, try soaking them in water, tossing them in olive oil, adding a pinch of sea salt and baking them in the oven for a crispy treat. How about those berries you didn’t finish? Toss them in the freezer for a smoothie later.
“If someone has spent the resources and done the work to grow food, it should not be wasted,” says Elizabeth Henderson, an organic farmer in Newark, New York.
It’s estimated that Americans waste $165 billion on food each year. That costs the average American family of four anywhere from $1,365 to $2,275, estimates the Natural Resources Defense Council.
From the grocery store to the plate to the garbage, there are ways you can save money and help reduce food waste.
Don’t judge a vegetable by its shape
About seven percent of food never leaves the farm because it doesn’t meet the standard for shape and color, according to a report by the NRDC. Still another $15 billion worth of unsold fruits and vegetables alone are thrown out each year at the store, estimates the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We have created a monster by purchasing and displaying only pristine foods and now customers expect it,” Tricia Banks says.
Banks oversees Flower City Pickers Mission, which collects about 3,000 pounds of food each week at the City of Rochester Public Market in New York. The food is donated to more than 20 shelters and soup kitchens or to local farmers for their pigs.
“I think grocers would love the opportunity to sell less beautiful food, but are afraid that they would lose customers,” Banks says. “It may also end up being more work for them since some of these foods may have a shorter shelf life and they would have to rotate their product more often.”
Don’t overlook that crooked carrot or blemished tomato, Henderson says.
Where you shop can also make a difference in reducing food waste. At Abundance Food Co-op in Rochester, New York, food sustainability and minimizing waste is essential to business.
“Our shoppers and owners believe food matters: how it’s grown or made, how it tastes and how it impacts the world around us,” says Marketing and Outreach Manager Chris Whitebell.
Abundance offers produce that is not as fresh as the standard selection at a reduced price.
“Most of the time the produce is perfectly edible and tasty, but might not look pretty,” he says. “It’s a great way to get quality, organic produce for a low price.”
Anything that doesn’t get sold goes to the staff to take home or to Community Composting, which turns the food waste into soil for Rochester gardens.
Freezing, preserving and dehydrating are a few ways to keep food out of the trash. Produce should be blanched before freezing, Henderson says. Vegetable peels or bones from meat can be boiled in water to make broth. Potato and sweet potato skins or left over kale can be made into chips.
Whitebell says it’s also beneficial to learn to love and anticipate leftovers.
“Make more than you need for dinner and plan to have what’s leftover for lunch,” he says. “You can also freeze it and save it for another day when you’re too busy to cook.”
With a little extra thought and care, all elements of the food you buy can be used and repurposed to help both your wallet and the planet.