The First (And Possibly Most Important) Step Towards A Sustainable Diet

If I would ask you what a sustainable diet looks like, what would your answer be?

Chances are that the first words coming up are something along the following lines: 'eating a local, organic, fresh and plant-based diet'.

However, if we think about sustainable diets only in terms of what types of products we do eat, we leave out another extremely important element: the food we don't eat, simply because we waste it.

Actually, more than half of the food that gets lost or wasted throughout the full supply chain (from the moment of planting, to the product ending up in our homes) happens at the consumer side. Or: in your and my kitchen. Evans and colleagues estimate that households in the UK throw away about one third of the food they purchase (one third!). Avermaete & Keulemans estimate that consumers in Europe and North America yearly waste approximately 95-115 kg of food per person. Even more shockingly, it is estimated that consumers in industrialised countries (Europe, North America, Oceania and industrialised Asia) waste almost as much food as the netto production of food in Sub Sahara Africa.

Need I repeat that?

Based on these numbers, I think that we can all agree that we are wasting way too much food. Waaaaay too much.

This wasted food also represents plenty of resources wasted: water, money, energy for transportation, cooling, processing and packaging. All for nothing.

I think that, if we want to live more sustainably, this is one of the first things that we can and should address. So, what can we do?

1. Trust your senses

Most foods we buy come with a best before or expiration date. However, products can often still be eaten past these dates. This is especially the case with products that have a 'best before' date. So, use your smell, sight and taste to decide whether a product is still edible or not. I promise, the chance of that apple that expired yesterday killing you is small.

2. Plan your shopping trips

This sounds so boring and straight-forward, yet we often don't do it. If you go to a store without a shopping list, you are much more likely to buy too much or the wrong things. So, next time you go shopping, take a bit of time to prepare a list, and stick to it.

3. Go to bulk stores

Ever bought a pack of food for a recipe of which you only needed half, after which you stored the rest, only to find it back after a long time and having to throw it away? I have. Buying in bulk allows you to only buy the needed quantity. As such, there is no need to throw away the rest.

4. Store your food properly

Another tip that sounds extremely straightforward. Keep your food cool and dry, away from animals that – much like you – want to eat your food.

5. Lower the temperature of your fridge and freeze your food

Work by Brown et al. suggests that lowering the temperature of your fridge, and freezing more of your meals can have a large impact on the amount of food wasted. Now – you may say – this will use more energy. But according to their studies, the environmental and financial impacts of the extra energy used is much lower than the environmental and financial impacts of the food that might otherwise be wasted.

6. Learn how to use your leftovers

A lot of food may get wasted just because we do not know what to do with leftovers. I would strongly encourage you to get creative, and try to make new things out of your leftovers. I often just cut things up and make a stew, soup, stir fry, or oven vegetables. Pretty failproof, and by varying with spices it never gets boring.

7. Have a leftovers day

I remember doing this at home when I was younger, we would store the leftovers from our meals, and once per week, we would eat them. Added bonus: not having to cook on such an evening!

Now it is up to us! What will you try and what do you already do to reduce your food waste?

Tjitske is a researcher and blogger. She studies possibilities for transitions towards more sustainable food supply chains and is always searching to create more sustainable habits in her personal life. She shares her insights on her blog The Green Pumpkin, hoping to inspire other people to create habits for a more sustainable life.

Read this next: Understanding food expiration dates to reduce food waste

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