Invest in our planet with sustainable food management

Jaime E. Love

This year’s theme for Earth Day, observed on April 22, is “Invest in our planet.” The word invest means” to make use of for future benefits or advantages.”

Earth Day started in 1970 to create awareness and bring about action to protect the environment. If we are to protect and preserve our precious natural resources so that future generations can also benefit from them, otherwise known as sustainability, then we should invest in our planet.

I focus a lot on food. I need it to live. I enjoy it. With it, I lovingly prepare meals for my family and friends. My finances take a hit when food prices go up. My work supports a sustainable, healthy and resilient food system. I am disheartened when I see food go to waste. I recognize that how we bring food to our tables greatly impacts my community’s social, economic and environmental well-being. Hence, I understand how food plays a key role in Earth Day.

The world understands it as well. In 2017, the United Nations created a set of 17 global goals, the Sustainable Development Goals, to protect the planet, end poverty, and promote peace and prosperity. All 17 goals can be moved further along by sustainable food systems. One of the specific goals related to food and Earth Day (number 12.3 on the Sustainable Development Goals list) focused on cutting food waste in half by 2030. Knowing that over one-third of all food produced is wasted, I am all in on supporting this goal.

The negative impacts of wasted food extend far beyond the obvious wasted nutrition for people. Wasted food is a waste of the natural resources, human labor and space used to produce it. Food production and its movement through the food supply chain also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, which are needlessly created when food is wasted. Finally, wasted food in landfills also creates greenhouse gases – and don’t get me started on all of the excess trash generated by its packaging.

As a food lover and nutrition professional, imagine my delight this year when I heard that Earth Day will be observed during Nevada’s first-ever designated Food Waste Awareness Month in April. Food waste has become a priority issue in our state, so much that legislation passed in 2019 created the Food for People, Not Landfills Program. This program is designed to increase food security by decreasing food waste and redirecting excess consumable food to hungry Nevada communities. Sounds great! While the program is being structured, organizations can refer to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy to learn how best to deal with excess food. Here’s a hint, the best way to decrease food waste is by reducing the amount of excess food created in the first place, aka source reduction.

So, what can we as consumers do to reduce food waste and invest in our planet so that every day is Earth Day? We can focus on three areas that generate food waste: planning, storing and preparing food.

Planning

  • Plan a week of meals on a day you typically have time. When choosing, consider how busy you will be each day throughout the week and how much time and effort you wish to put into creating your meal. Skip days you will be eating out, and schedule meals using the most perishable foods you have on hand first.
  • Create a grocery shopping list based on your list of meals for the week. Review recipes to determine which items you need to purchase, and always look in your pantry and cold storage for items that you already have or need to be used soon.
  • Plan to consume delicate fruits and vegetables early in the week and save the sturdier ones for later in the week.

Storage

  • Learn how to properly store fresh fruits and vegetables. Don’t let your crisper become the rotter. Some fruits, such as berries, shouldn’t be washed until just before they’re eaten. Some vegetables, including potatoes, onions and garlic, should be stored in a cool, dark place, but not in the refrigerator. Determine if you can adjust the humidity levels on your refrigerator produce drawers, as leafy greens like it humid, while mushrooms or peppers prefer a drier environment.
  • Extend produce life with food preservation. Using the freezer, canning and drying fruits, vegetables and herbs are excellent ways to use up a bounty and cut food loss. Extension’s Home Food Preservation Program offers classes to teach you how, and many are offered in the comfort of your own home through the internet.

Cooking and prep

  • Use it all, or at least most of your produce whenever possible. For example, beet greens and leafy carrot tops can also be eaten, besides the crunchy root part of these vegetables that we typically enjoy. Don’t be afraid to google recipes using the edible plant parts you typically toss. For example, whenever I cut up broccoli, I slice the left-over stalks and freeze them in a gallon freezer bag. Once the bag is full, I can toss the sliced frozen broccoli stalks with olive oil and roast in a 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes or until nicely browned. Then I season them with salt and pepper. My family loves them and I call them broccoli medallions.
  • Refrigerate leftovers within two hours. This will keep your food safe and minimize waste. Be sure to label the food with its name and the date it was prepared. Trust me, you will forget and then you’ll have a doubt and need to throw it out.

Ready to learn more? The Environmental Protection Agency has a great resource called the Too Good to Waste Implementation Guide and Toolkit, which includes tip sheets and a challenge you can use to involve the whole family in investing in the planet while cutting food waste. Another set of tools includes the great articles and infographics on keeping produce fresher longer and reducing food waste at eatright.org/homefoodsafety. If you like apps, you can try the Is My Food Safe app or the FoodKeeper app to help you determine if your food is still safe to eat.

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