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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Stiles RD

The Secret to Preventing Food Waste

Making Food Waste Personal.

I recently knocked a brand new jar of honey out of my cabinet and watched it fall (in slow motion, of course) and shatter all over my counter.

While I’ve certainly dropped and spilled food before, this jar of honey felt different. It had come from a nearby farm and was expensive. I knew a little about the beekeeper and the story of her hives. Due to the money invested and my knowledge of its origins, I valued that honey more than I ever had a squeeze bear from the grocery store.

Starting at the huge piles of gooey liquid gold speckled with shards of glass, I had the very uncharacteristic urge to cry.

This tale may be a bit silly and dramatic, but it got me thinking about one of the most powerful tools we have to combat food waste.

What is Food Waste?

The USDA estimates that between 30-40% of our food ends up as food waste. That number feels so large it almost doesn’t compute. For context, that’s 133 billion pounds worth of food. If just a third of that wasted food could be recovered, it would be enough to feed all the Americans who experience food insecurity each year.

A little over 20% of landfill space is taken up with food waste, releasing a considerable amount of methane into the atmosphere as the food decomposes. This accounts for almost 10% of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change. Imagine 41 million cars driving around 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with no passengers or purpose, and that’s the level of needless emissions we’re talking about.

In a world where 1 in 9 people do not have enough food to eat, the amount wasted in the US feels stunning.

But there is room for positive thinking. With almost half of all food waste coming from household waste, there is a lot of space for individual actions to have an impact.

What holds us back?

Over the last 50 years, the amount of food waste has increased at the same time that the average body weight has ballooned. It doesn’t make a lot of sense if you think about it.

There are many ways to reduce houeshold food waste, and we’ve been asked to buy less, to eat smaller portions, and to compost. Yet, despite good intentions, our attitude towards food continues to result in a culture of wastefulness.

The facts have failed to sway our habits, so perhaps it’s time to look closer at our relationship with our food.

For most of us, the food we eat comes from a grocery store. There is no way to know how the food was grown or harvested or anything about the farmers who invested their efforts into bringing the food to us. Put simply; our food has no story.

Food should feel personal to us.

We need to know the story of our food, where it came from, and the stories of the people who labored to bring it to us. Or even create our own food stories through the work of our hands.

When we have a meaningful, personal connection to the story of the food that nourishes us, we are naturally motivated to take steps to prevent it from being wasted. When the kind of food we eat is not so easily replaced by a quick trip to the grocery store, we will put more effort into making it last and getting the benefit of every bite.

I have found this to be true for me.

No store-bought tomato will ever equal the enjoyment of a tomato grown in my own garden. Having to toss a tomato bought at the store doesn’t hit home for me, but if one of my garden tomatoes starts to rot before I’ve either eaten, preserved, or given it away, I feel a much greater disappointment. I never want the story of my garden tomatoes to end in waste.

Connecting with the story of our food

While gardening is one way to build a connection with your food, it’s far from the only one. Here are a few more ways you can connect with the story of your food:

  1. Buy the local produce at the grocery store. Many big chain stores are now labeling foods that come from nearby, and some even tell a little about the local farm. It can be a significant first step to get you thinking about the source of your food.

  2. Purchase from the farmers’ market. Take time to chat with the farmer and learn something about their farm and how they grow their food. Most farmers are happy to talk about what is truly a passion for them.

  3. Sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share from a local farm. Even if you don’t meet the farmer, you should get updates on how things are going during the growing season. You’d be amazed at the stories farmers can tell.

  4. Connect with a food co-op to access a wide range of locally grown and prepared foods. Visit to find one near you.

  5. Volunteer with a local farm or food pantry. Both these experiences can increase your value for food and waste prevention.

One of the biggest hold-ups in connecting more with the local food economy is cost concern. But, consider this: the average household wastes 30% of the food it purchases. That’s over $1800 a year thrown away. Spending a bit more money on less quantity but higher quality local food may be within reach for many and can be a huge motivator to prevent it from going to waste.

This brings me back to that expensive, broken jar of honey. While none of it could be salvaged, when I was able to invest in a new jar, you can be sure I put it in a secure location and savored every last drop.

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