Updated: Sep 28, 2022
You may be noticing lately, as you peruse through the grocery store aisles, that shelves are looking sparse and you're unable to get all of the foods you normally purchase. Or, perhaps you've noticed the exuberant cost of your grocery bill (I know, I feel your pain!). Times have been challenging, yes, but the silver lining may be that these challenges may cause us to think twice before wasting food.
Before we begin, I have a disclaimer😬: The potential food shortages I'm about to highlight are not meant to scare you. Discovering these potential shortages were eye opening to me and caused me to pause when I looked at the food on my plate. It made me have a greater appreciation with each bite and put some practices into place to preserve food I have on hand, reduce food waste, optimize nutrition, and save money. I hope it does the same for you!
Why care about food waste
There may be food shortages
To begin, I don't recommend Googling "food shortage" as the headlines are a tad bit unsettling.
Grain production and export (mainly wheat) in Ukraine have come to a halt with the very unfortunate war. It's predicted that canned goods may be in short supply due to—get this—an aluminum shortage that started during the pandemic and continues due to supply chain issues. This could reduce availability of things like canned tomatoes, beans, and vegetables. There was also a recent threat to avocados (this one really hit home for me) as the United States banned imports from Mexico. Thankfully, this ban has been lifted!
Recent reports predict that certain fruits and vegetables may face shortages.
As you've probably seen in your own grocery store, eggs, meat, and dairy are facing major shortages. Between the shortages and high gas prices, the costs of these products have skyrocketed. I don't know about you, but, to me, it seems like a great time to eat more plants or start that vegan meal plan you've been wanting to try. ;)
These shortages come from a variety of issues with one major issue being climate. Droughts limit what can be grown, severe weather prevents the delivery of food getting to its destination, and soil is much less fertile than it once was due to heavy tilling, pesticides, and other chemicals used for agriculture, making it difficult to grow the large amounts of food that were once grown. The cost of fuel and equipment, supply chain issues, and water issues led to one farmer in Idaho to state " we currently are facing more threats and challenges all at once than perhaps ever before" in a recent NPR interview.
Food prices are increasing
There's also the issue of overall costs. If you've checked out at the grocery store lately, you've probably noticed the apocalyptic prices of your food bill. These high prices have caused people to ration their food, choose less expensive options, or grow their own food. If nothing else, these high prices alone might make you think twice before wasting the food on your plate.
Food waste impacts the environment
In the United States alone, food waste is estimated to be 30–40% of the supply chain. Considering the potential of limited supply mentioned above, in addition to the cost of food, that's a big chunk to waste. To put it another way, 133 billion pounds of food is wasted each year. You might still be asking, why does this matter? Here's some food for thought:
Wasted food could help to feed families in need.
There's a lot of energy put into food including land, water, labor, energy, gas, and more.
There's also energy used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, storing, and disposing of discarded food.
All of that energy goes directly into landfills when food is wasted.
What happens when food goes into landfills?
Unless you're composting, food thrown away ends up in the landfill. What happens in a landfill? (Glad you asked!😃) Food decomposes through anaerobic digestion, which means it's without oxygen. The anaerobic bacteria that feed on the food release a gas called methane. (Side note: This is the same gas that cows release when they release gas, a.k.a burp and fart, and is one reason why animal agriculture contributes so greatly to greenhouse gases.) While methane breaks down more quickly than carbon dioxide (if a decade sounds quick to you), it is 21 more times more powerful than carbon dioxide. In fact, it's so powerful that it acquired the nickname, "super pollutant" (quite different than the "super" we think of when used in a context like, "Super Hero"). Also, when it rains, the runoff from the rain carries this anaerobic bacteria into the water cycle, where they create algal blooms that outcompete other species for oxygen, ultimately resulting in the extermination of rivers, lakes, and streams. This is all just very bad for the environment and its inhabitants, including humans.
By now, I hear you loud and clear—I'm such a Debbie Downer, right? But, I have good news!
There are some super (in the best way) simple things you can do at home to make a huge impact. In fact, by implementing some of the practices below, you'll improve your health, your family's health, and the health of the planet all while saving money! Plus, you may also boost your mood and mental health by feeling really good about minimizing waste. Are you in?😃 Here we go...
1. Preserve fruits and vegetables. Don’t store fruits and vegetables together. Fruits can emit a gas called ethylene that can prematurely ripen or spoil vegetables around it.
2. Practice first in, first out. Whenever you food shop and purchase items similar to the items in your refrigerator or freezer, make sure to rotate by placing the recently purchased items in the back and the older items in the front so they're used up first.
3. Extend the shelf life of herbs and some veggies by storing them in a jar of water. Store the bottoms of celery, asparagus, and green onions in 1–2 inches of water and the stems of parsley and cilantro in 1–2 inches of water to extend their shelf life significantly (as in, they won't die the following day! Instead, they should last 7–10 days. Woot!).
4. Wash leafy greens when you get home, allow them to dry as much as possible and store them with paper towels (to absorb any excess moisture) in a bag or container before placing them in your crisper drawer.
5. Store skinned produce, like lemons, limes, and avocados in a storage container filled with water so that the fruit is completely submerged. Have you ever had to purchase an entire bag of lemons when you really only need one or two? Oftentimes, the excess lemons end up moldy after a few weeks in the fridge. To extend the shelf life of extra lemons (and other skinned fruit), submerge them in a container filled with water stored in the refrigerator.
6. Freeze fruit that you don't plan to eat or that is nearing its end. Spread the fruit out evenly on a baking sheet first and place it in the freezer. Once it's frozen, transfer it to a freezer bag or freezer-safe container. This process will prevent the fruit from sticking together (and coming out in one big clump!).
7. To freeze vegetables, blanch them first for 1–2 minutes before freezing. This stops enzymatic reactions that could change their color and nutritional value. You can freeze carrots, broccoli, potatoes, asparagus, okra, string beans, artichoke hearts, Brussels sprouts, peas, kale, chard, and more in this way.
8. Got wilt-y leafy greens? Revive greens in an ice bath for 30–60 minutes, or until they become more hardy again.
9. To rejuvenate root veggies that have gone soft, like beets or potatoes, soak them in cold water overnight.
10. Add overripe fruit and veggies to smoothies or juices.
11. Keep a catch-all bin in the fridge for when you have small scraps of food and use them in everything from soups to stir fries to sandwiches. For example, I had half a carrot leftover from a recipe that called for one cup of carrots. It went to my "catch-all" bin in the fridge and I ended up adding it to a stir fry. Alternatively, you could simply eat the other half of the carrot as a snack with hummus. :) (I really don't enjoy the flavor of raw carrots, ya'll.)
12. Make a soup broth out of veggie scraps like broccoli stems, beet greens, and carrot tops. Add the scraps to a large pot and enough water to cover them with 1–2 inches of water room on top. Boil then simmer for approximately one hour. Strain the broth, storing it in mason jars or reusable condiment jars and compost the remaining veggie fiber, if you can.
13. Freeze veggie scraps for later use to make a broth or add to soups and stir fries.
14. Make fruit leather. This one is fun and an awesome treat if you have kids (or adults who love naturally sweet snacks). Add fruit on its last leg (not molded, just on its last leg) to a food processor and blend until it's like a thin smoothie consistency. With a spatula, spread it out so it's about 1/4" thick on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Dehydrate in the oven at the lowest setting for about 4 hours, flipping it over 3/4 of the way through. Get a Berry and Banana Fruit Leather Recipe here.
15. Blend fruits and place in an ice cube tray. Freeze then add to water for a naturally sweet summer beverage.
16. Make popsicles using the same method above but add the blended fruit to popsicle sticks. You can also get creative with this and mix in plant-based yogurt, edible flowers, or nuts and seeds.
17. Preserve fruits and veggies that you know you won't eat by making a sauce, spread, or through pickling or canning. (This could come in handy during a food shortage!)
18. Make DIY home cleaner. Soak lemon rinds in vinegar for 3–7 days. Strain the liquid into a reusable spray bottle. Dilute the lemon water with the same quantity of plain water. Add one teaspoon of soap (optional). Use as a natural household cleaner!
19. Make a natural plant fertilizer. Add old coffee grinds plus 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, which is antibacterial, to a large mason jar. Pour carbonated water into the jar. Use it as a natural fertilizer for your plants by adding it to plants every two weeks.
20. Regrow food from scraps. Onions are one of the easiest vegetables to regrow from scraps. Cut off the root end of your onion, leaving about 1/2 inch of onion on the roots. Either place the roots in a jar with water covering the roots or in your garden, covered with top soil. Make sure it's in a sunny spot! Keep the roots submerged in water or the soil moist by watering when needed.
Do you have other ideas? Please share!