Founder and CEO, Misfits Market
Fall is synonymous with harvest time at farms across the country, but what actually happens on the ground may shock you.
A stunning 33 percent of U.S.-grown food is unharvested or left on the field, according to a recent study from researchers at the University of Santa Clara. Why? Growers who work with grocery stores know big chains won’t buy misfit foods — that is, veggies that are misshapen, too big or small, or with superficial blemishes — even if they’re still perfectly tasty and nutritious.
The real cost
Imagine paying for your groceries then leaving a third of them in the shopping cart after checking out. That’s essentially what grocery store mandates are doing before you even get to the store.
It’s no wonder the annual price tag of food waste is so staggering; the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates it costs a family of four $1,800 per year.
When food goes to waste, so do trillions of gallons of water, hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides, and nearly 2 billion pounds of fertilizers used to grow it. Worse yet, rotting food produces methane, a greenhouse gas that’s up to 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The United States and China are the only countries that produce more greenhouse gasses than food waste does globally.
This scale is unconscionable, especially when 1 in 8 Americans is food insecure and the economic climate for farmers is more challenging than ever.
But there is good news. While companies like mine, Misfits Market, work directly with farmers to rescue perfectly delicious misfit produce from the fields and make it accessible to everyone, it’s easy for anyone to make an impact. Here’s how:
Become a smarter shopper
Use shopping lists so you only buy what you need at the market (you can even take a picture of your fridge before you shop so you don’t forget what you already have). Avoid buying foods in bulk unless you know you can consume them by their expiration dates.
And speaking of “sell-by” dates, experts say these aren’t related to safety but are instead an indication of peak flavor. So purchase the fresh food that’s expiring soonest and pick the lone banana separated from the bunch — they’re more likely to get passed over by other shoppers and thrown out by the store.
Store food wisely
Follow FIFO, the “first in, first out” storage method, where you place the oldest food toward the front of your fridge so it’s top of mind. Then, place the newer items toward the back. Store the same types of food together and use clear containers so you can quickly assess what you have.
Don’t neglect your freezer, either. If you doubt you’ll finish an entire batch of food, preserve it by freezing. If you’ve let something languish a day or two beyond its “best-by” date, use a more accurate gauge than some arbitrary date: your nose. If the food passes the smell test, it’s probably okay to eat.
Plan, serve, and preserve creatively
Using the whole of foods, from root to tip — think carrot top pesto, potato peel chips, and homemade veggie stock from scraps — makes a big dent in your household waste. Online meal planners are great tools for making a single item, like a roast chicken, last for days on end.
When you’ve maxed out your freezer storage, look into preservation methods like dehydrating and canning. Finally, learn to love leftovers. Flavors need time to meld, so meals are often even more delicious the next day. Plus, if you pack your lunch, you could save up to $1,500 annually. Can’t argue with extra money in your pocket!
Abhi Ramesh, Founder and CEO, Misfits Market, [email protected]