photo: Hans Gissinger
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Carrots that grow through hard or rocky soil may become malformed but remain edible and nutritious.

photo: Hans Gissinger

A Four-Word Remedy for Food Waste: Toss Less, Salvage More

In a world where nearly 800 million people a year go hungry, what can one person do to prevent food from going to waste? Plenty.

The arugula tripped me up.

Like most of us, I try to be mindful of food that goes to waste. The arugula was to make a nice green salad, rounding out a roast chicken dinner. But I ended up working late. Then my husband did. Then friends called with an impromptu dinner invitation. I stuck the chicken in the freezer. But as days passed, the arugula turned to green goop. Even worse, I had unthinkingly bought way too much; I could have made six salads with what I threw out.

In a world where nearly 800 million people a year go hungry, “food waste goes against the moral grain,” as Elizabeth Royte writes in this month’s cover story. It’s jaw-dropping how much perfectly good food is trashed—from produce left to rot in the fields to “ugly” (but quite edible) vegetables rejected by grocers to massive amounts of uneaten, too big portions scraped into restaurant garbage bins.

Producing food that no one eats squanders the water, fuel, and other resources used to grow it. That makes food waste an environmental issue. In fact, Royte writes, “if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, after China and the U.S.”

That’s hard to get your mind around. So let’s keep it as simple as that green goop at the back of my refrigerator. 

Mike Curtin, Jr., sees my arugula story all the time—but for him, it’s more like 12 pallets of donated strawberries nearing their last days. Curtin is CEO of DC Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C., which each week recovers about 15,000 pounds of food and turns it into healthy meals. DCCK finds this bounty everywhere. In fiscal year 2014 it recovered more than 807,500 pounds of food by taking donations, collecting misshapen and blemished produce, and gleaning at local farms where food otherwise would have rotted in fields. And the strawberries? Volunteers will wash, cut, and freeze or dehydrate them for use in meals down the road.

Such solutions seem obvious, yet so often we just don’t think. “Everyone can play a part in reducing waste,” Curtin says, “whether by not purchasing more food than necessary in your weekly shopping or by asking restaurants to not include the side [dish] you won’t eat.” I certainly can take both of those actions, can’t you? 

Thank you for reading National Geographic.