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Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Eliminate Wasted Food Journey, first steps

In her November Martha Stewart Whole Living feature article Spoil Alert, Elizabeth Royte's final paragraph includes the statement "For Elmore, who says she eats out seven nights a week to avoid food loss at home, this means finishing everything on her plate or asking, unashamedly, for a doggie bag." Yikes, although true and I am certain a paraphrased quote, the statement hit a strong chord within me, propelling a new action plan.

The article is a recap of Atlanta's wasted food heroes intertwined with stinging facts about our nation's food waste and wasted food scenario.  In June Elizabeth came to Atlanta for a whirlwind visit to interview the featured heroes. The ZWA Blog post, Atlanta  Wasted Food Heroes in National Spotlight, gives an article overview plus interesting anecdotes not in the article copy.

The waste inherent in our nation's food systems is astounding and infiltrates the entire production | consumption systems in place. 

In his groundbreaking 2010 book American Wasteland Jonathan Bloom awoke the nation to the staggering fact that nearly half of the food produced in the USA goes uneaten. Earlier this year, Dana Gunders further substantiated the food waste situation with her well-researched National Research Defense Council Issue Paper, WASTED: How America is Losing Up to 40% of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.  Here are two snippets on household loss from the paper:
American families throw out approximately 25% of the food and beverages they buy. The cost estimate for the average family of four is $1,365 to $2,275 annually.  Consumer food waste also has serious implications for wasted energy.
Cheap, available food has created behaviors that do not place high value on utilizing what is purchased.  As a result, wasted food is simply not on the radar of many Americans, even those who consider themselves environment or cost-conscious.
Within the 40% waste statistic are two main categories:  Food Waste - inedible by-products inherent in the food production process (e.g. avocado skin and seed) and Wasted Food - edible food that is not consumed before disposal (e.g. avocado half left in the refrigerator until no longer edible).

ZWZ Participant, HMS Host
Tampa Airport with food
donation awaiting colletion
Under Elemental Impact's stewardship, the Zero Waste Zones program participation criteria required unserved food meeting the Good Samaritan Food Donation Law be donated (wasted food prevention) and kitchen scraps and plate scrapings (food waste) be collected for off-site composting or other state-permitted use. Note the National Restaurant Association's ZWZ program purchase this fall is documented in the ZWA Blog post, Ei: An Established Program Creator.

For those who follow the ZWA Blog, the vast majority of the posts are written in third person. When the topic is dear to my heart and personal in nature I write in first-person. I am personally and professionally committed to educating individual and corporate consumers on the stupendous food waste | wasted food scenario, along with developing easy-to-implement waste reduction practices.  

In the corporate arena, sound business principles are at the foundation of Ei's work. Yet this post breaks the ZWA Blog pattern in another style:  the focal point is the personal consumer, versus corporate consumer.

While reading about my dining habits in Spoil Alert, I realized my dining out behavior was avoidance in nature rather than proactive in waste reduction.  Committed to walking my talk, it was time for me to start cooking the majority of meals with a goal of consuming or gifting 100% of food purchased. The first action step was to get my kitchen back into operating order after literally three years of limited to no use.  The second action step was to contract with Compost Wheels for weekly kitchen scrap collection for composting. 

home food waste (kitchen scraps)
awaiting their composting destination
An accomplished cook after owning a catering business and two restaurants for 15 years, I understand menu planning and careful purchasing are key to preparing one-person meals with minimal waste generation.  If a quart of chicken stock is opened to make rice, then I commit myself  to using the remaining stock in sauces or soups prior to its spoil threshold.  Although fun, impulse purchasing often results in waste as the items may not easily complement planned menus.

Many culinary publications offer assistance on how to use ingredients in a variety of recipes.  For example, Fine Cooking includes a monthly Big Buy Cooking feature with tips and ideas on how to make tasty meals and treats from bulk purchases at wholesale clubs, such as Costco. Google searches reveal a myriad of resources on how to use left over meals and ingredients.

From the ZWZ program development, I know focus on waste results in waste reduction.  Thus, I inaugurated My Wasted Food Diary to document weekly wasted food along with a description of WHY the food was not consumed.  In my first entry excess rice was thrown out as I failed to plan for two consecutive evening business dinners.

Thyme bundle drying
for later use
Additionally, I list pending challenges for food nearing the wasted marker.  YEA - friends responded with simple, effective suggestions for the food.  Thus, the remaining thyme is tied and drying for later use.

Validating Dana's comment "wasted food is simply not on the radar screen of many Americans" two astute friends suggested I purchase a worm bin to solve my dilemma. It shocked me to realize recycling, versus my REDUCTION | ELIMINATION focus, was at the forefront of their well-intended comments.  Hmmmm..... wasted food awareness seems to remain in its infancy.

My intentions are to post weekly on My Wasted Food Diary to document my journey, learn from reader comments and encourage the community to embrace wasted food best practices.  Successes and stumbles will infiltrate the lighthearted diary along with encouragement to join the journey.

I invite you to join The Eliminate Wasted Food Journey however works best for you. Please share your efforts with friends to learn from and inspire them.  No matter the quantity of individual waste reduction, the collective impact is tremendous and imperative to regaining balance in our food systems.  Thank you! 


  1. Great effort and more focus needed by others to reduce food waste.

    1. Thanks Amanda! I appreciate your support and sharing of Ei's imp work. In the next days I will write my second diary post with many successes, a couple stumbles and one sad Yikes. It is individuals like you that keep me inspired. Hope your holidays are wonderful! Holly