“My wife likes to joke that I’m a Depression-era housewife,” Tom Colicchio joked during a panel discussion at Food Tank’s 2017 Food Waste Summit.
The celebrity chef and activist was referring to his obsession with not wasting food, and it’s a topic that’s been getting more and more attention due to some staggering stats. In the U.S., the USDA estimates that 30 to 40 percent of food produced is wasted, adding up to 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. (And you thought Sweetgreen was expensive.)
Why should you care, though, when you’re now old enough to know that clearing your dinner plate won’t, in fact, help feed starving children in Ethiopia, despite what your mother told you?
First, you’re basically throwing your money in the garbage: a recent study found the average American family spends more than $2000 a year (that’s a vacation!) on food that goes uneaten. Most importantly, food waste is the largest category of garbage filling landfills. Once in the landfill, it generates methane, a greenhouse gas that is a major contributor to climate change. It’s also bad for the planet since it’s not just wasted food, it’s a waste of all of the resources (like water and transportation) that went into its production.
“The real cost of food isn’t understood,” Colicchio noted, referencing how cheap the end cost of food can be in America, a fact that confuses our perception. “We don’t value food.”
Ready to start trying? Here are a few simple tips he mentioned that will help you cut food waste, save the planet, AND put money back in your pockets.
3 Tips to Cut Food Waste
1. FIFO Your Fridge.
There’s a rule in restaurant kitchens referred to as FIFO, and it stands for “first in, first out.” Every time you stock the fridge, you take the older stuff out and move it to the front, putting the newer, fresher foods behind. This prevents you from forgetting about things that are hidden before they go bad. It’s a super simple strategy that adds a couple of extra minutes to your post-grocery routine but makes a huge difference.
2. Get to Know Your Freezer.
Colicchio said our collective obsession with fresh ingredients in restaurants might have steered us a little too far from our freezers. Everything fresh all of the time is “a great strategy for restaurants, but not necessarily for home,” he explained, where it’s often hard to finish foods in the quantities they’re sold in. His tip: Freeze stuff! When he buys too much kale, he said, he blanches it and freezes it. When tomatoes are popping at the farmers’ market, he freezes a bunch and then turns them into sauce at a later date.
3. Eat out.
This may sound a little self-serving coming from a chef (ha!) but it’s true. While we recommend cooking at home as much as possible since it’s generally great for your health, restaurants are better at managing food waste than consumers are (since every food purchased equals dollar amounts on a spreadsheet). So, consider this you’re one good excuse to dine out a little more often than you should.
And hey, tell your friends about how you’re working on reducing food waste, too, Colicchio suggests. “We’ve got to get this message out to more people,” he said. “Nobody wants to waste money. Nobody wants to waste food.”