Consumer Responsibility and Food Waste

FoodgarbageThere certainly is food waste on the production and retail end, as previous Triple Pundit articles indicate. However, food wasted by consumers is also a big problem. An article in The Guardian last week points out that consumers need to be more informed in order to reduce food waste.

Last summer, I watched a few documentaries about food waste. One of them was a French documentary titled, “The Gleaners and I,” which included interviews with people who salvaged food thrown out by grocery stores. Watching footage of people getting perfectly good food out of dumpsters was eye-opening. Raised with the old adage, “Waste not, want not,” I really detest wasting food. It is practically ingrained into my DNA.

Not all consumers, me included, have the desire to go dumpster diving for food. However, we all need to be aware that funny looking fruit and vegetables are perfectly edible. As consumers, we are conditioned to desire perfect-looking produce, and don’t understand that misshapen fruits or vegetables are just as tasty and nutritious. As the article points out, “We need to understand that a nutritious and delicious vegetable or piece of fruit may not conform to some, often spurious, ideals of aesthetic perfection, and be prepared to buy and eat those examples which do not conform.”

A new UN campaign urges consumers to buy “funny fruit.” The UN Environmental Program (UNEP) and the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) started a campaign last month called  Think-Eat-Save, as I reported last month. One of the tips from the campaign for consumers is to buy and consume funny looking fruits and vegetables.

The Guardian article offers more tips on how consumers can reduce food waste, including eating more in season. There is a distinct advantage to eating fruits and vegetables grown seasonally – not only is local, seasonal produce usually cheaper, it’s also tastier. The article points out that many consumers expect “that all types of fruit and vegetable…should be available to us all year round.” This expectation means longer travel times and therefore more opportunities for food to go bad. For instance, there is an incredibly long distance to bring tomatoes to California in the winter from South America, and “such lengthy journeys increase the risk…of food going to waste.”

The Think-Eat-Save campaign offers more tips for consumers on how to reduce food waste, including:

  • Shopping smart by planning meals, using shopping lists and avoiding impulse buys
  • Understanding expiration dates–In the U.S., sell-by and use-by dates are not federally regulated and do not indicate safety, except for certain baby foods. Instead they are manufacturer suggestions for peak quality. Most foods can be safely eaten well after their use-by dates
  • Eating food that is already in your fridge before buying more or making something new
  • Freezing fresh produce and leftovers if you won’t have the chance to eat them before they go bad
  • Eating leftovers and using them to make something new

Given the fact that food waste totals $1.3 billion a year, or about one-third of all the food produced a year globally, we should all pay attention to these tips.

Image credit: Flickr user, Worak

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

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