America is addicted to throwing things away. As much as 40 percent of all the food grown in the country gets tossed out, either at the farm, the grocery store or in the home. Most of it ends up in landfills, where it rots and releases planet-warming gasses.
We discard the equivalent of $165 billion a year in food, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. But the problem can be difficult for the average consumer to grasp. After all, how does it really impact you if a tomato rots before you get to eat it?
Maybe you can afford to lose a dollar, but what you’re really wasting is a colossal amount of time and resources.
Think about this: A single tomato takes about 75 days and 3.3 gallons of water to grow before it’s ready to eat. Lettuce takes between 45 days for some cultivars, but others take more than three months. A carrot? 65 days.
If you use some kale, cucumber, beets and a bell pepper for a salad lunch, you could wind up with nearly a year in cumulative growing time on your plate.
Here’s how long some other common produce items take to grow:
The time and effort need to grow our food is often taken for granted. It quickly adds up, and it’s a real shame to think about throwing days and months away because a recipe called for only half of an onion.
“Millions of people are malnourished or going hungry, not only in developing countries but here in the US, while grocery stores, restaurants and homes are throwing away tons of perfectly edible and nutritious food every day,” Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA and creator of the anti-waste campaign “The Story of Stuff,” wrote in a blog published on The Huffington Post.
But there’s a simple answer out there: Buy only what you know you’ll use, and if you’re stuck with some leftover raw ingredients, get creative.
If time slips away from you and an apple gets a little mealy, look up a recipe to turn that lemon in to lemonade ― or in this case, roasted applesauce. Herbs, quick to spoil in the fridge, can be frozen into convenient cubes. And berries have never met a smoothie they didn’t like. (If something has gone bad, though, don’t eat it ― just toss it out and try to consume it quicker the next time you buy it new.)
If, for some reason, you can’t turn oldish produce into a meal like some Michelin-starred chefs can, think about composting. Many American cities like Seattle and San Francisco offer region-wide programs for a nominal fee, and if you can’t participate, buy a worm bin for your office.
“Whatever you’re lucky enough to put on your plate each day,” Leonard wrote, “it’s clear we all need to appreciate where it comes from and be motivated to make sure every last bite, scrap and rind goes to good use.”
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