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4 Simple Ways Americans Can Stop Wasting So Much Food

By Dylan Love

Earlier this year, France became the first country to ban supermarkets from disposing of unsold food. Italy recently enacted tax breaks incentivizing businesses to donate unused food to charities that provide meals to those who need them. The international community’s tone is clear: let’s clean our plates.

In the U.S., where 49.1 million Americans don’t have dependable access to food, a whopping 40% of food is just thrown away. The Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency are trying to catch up to the rest of the world: they aim to cut food loss in half by 2030. Make it your goal to help — reducing food waste is better for your personal budget, the environment and society.

Tired of opening up your fridge to spoiled milk and rotten produce? It doesn’t take much to change your act. Follow these simple steps to reduce your food waste.

1. Ignore expiration dates.

Date labels can be helpful when shopping, but they’re also basically meaningless. No, really: expiration and sell-by dates aren’t standardized, and few are government regulated. Moreover, expirations “aren’t based on science.” Sell-by dates merely indicate food quality and taste as decided by the manufacturer (which is why they sometimes read “enjoy by”). But they don’t mean anything about food safety.

Forget searching for the barely-legible sell-by stamp. Just use your better judgment, your tastebuds, and Google to determine if food is still good.

2. Eat ugly.

When grocery shopping, do you skip over misshapen produce and dented cereal boxes? Picked-over fruits, disfigured veggies, and overlooked packaged items are often perfectly good to eat — but get disposed of by the dumpsterful because they don’t look good.

The EU deemed 2014 the “Year to End Food Waste,” and thus the Ugly Food Movement was born. The Ugly Food Movement fights against misconceptions that disfigured or discolored food is inedible and unappealing. The campaigns celebrate ugly fruits and veggies, 6 billion pounds of which is unharvested or unsold annually — enough to feed 2 billion people. And that’s just produce.

How can you help? If damage is mostly superficial (and the seals on packaged items aren’t broken) then you’re safe to assume food is edible. Next time you’re shopping, take pity on those imperfect peaches and lightly-bruised bananas.

3. Be a conscientious consumer.

26% of food waste occurs before products are even delivered to stores. Cosmetic standards imposed by big grocery retailers cause farmers to throw away between 20 and 40% of their harvests. Looks and sell-by dates don’t matter, which means one shopper’s trash is another shopper’s treasure.

Check out Imperfect Produce, Hungry Harvest or discount grocery stores and outlets to get ugly food and slightly-expired goods on the cheap. If those aren’t options, consider buying direct from the source at your local farmer’s market or roadside stand.

4. Make “too much” into two meals

When dining out, take your leftovers to go instead of overstuffing on large restaurant portions. Use that half a chicken breast in a fresh salad, or reheat your french toast from brunch for a midnight snack. At home, take the same approach. Instead of cooking the perfectly-sized meal and putting half your ingredients back, (are you really gonna use them tomorrow?) — go all out and make a double batch.

Pack leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch, and keep freezer-friendly tupperware on hand. Next time you don’t feel like cooking, defrost a dinner instead. You’ll be grateful to your past self for looking out when the microwave is all that stands between you and a tasty meal.

Still have too much to spare? Invite friends over for a collaborative cooking session, and ask them to bring whatever they need to use up from their fridge and get creative. Make your potluck “no contribution necessary,” so friends who are low on groceries can enjoy a free home-cooked meal.

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