Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
The key: Making use of food that would otherwise be destined for the dumpster.
Daily Table, a new non-profit grocery store in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, aims to peddle healthy items while slashing prices. How does it pull that off? By stocking up on food that’s nearing its sell-by date.
Most of the goods are donated by other stores after languishing on their shelves, NPR reports. The result is that bananas are $0.29/pound. Apples go for $0.49/pound, whereas they may cost as much as $1 each at a bodega or deli. Donations are also turned into prepared meals on site. Wilted veggies aren’t necessarily bad, chef Ismail Samad reminded NPR. He added,
The top of the kale might be getting a little light green. We cut that off and sauté it up.
It’s important to note that food approaching the sell-by date is usually far from rancid. Those dates—which aren’t regulated, according to the USDA—leave a significant cushion to allow food to get into a customer’s fridge and meals before it starts to turn.
It’s a great use for food that might otherwise end up in the garbage. We have no shortage of rejected edibles. Americans pitched more than 34 million tons of food in 2012, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. That accounts for nearly 40 percent of the food that we grow, noted a paper from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
But here’s the problem: The U.S. is still plagued by food insecurity. More than 48 million Americans lack regular access to nutritious meals, reports Share Our Strength. Those numbers tend to be higher in cities. Programs like this one can help get nutritious food into mouths and bellies, not landfills.
Here’s what you can do to reduce your own food waste:
Give “ugly” produce a chance. Much of the discarded produce skews towards the homely end of the spectrum. But a lopsided peach tastes just as good as a picture-perfect one, and heirloom tomatoes are delicious.
Eat your leftovers. Stumped about new ways to prepare that last bit of fennel or squash? Plug your ingredients into an app such as BigOven and get a list of hundreds of recipes to try.
Stop overestimating how much you need. Don’t get suckered into buying in bulk. The NRDC reports that store promotions often lead to wasted food. According to the report:
Though volume purchases and promotions may be less expensive per ounce, if part of the food goes bad before being eaten, it may actually be more expensive in the long run.
A family of four loses as much as $2,275 per year due to food waste.