Is it just me or do you ever learn a new word or idea and then end up hearing it more and more often in conversation or in passing on the street? For the longest time, I brushed off these instances as mere coincidences. However, there is legitimate scientific backing behind it all. Known as Baader-Meinhof, this phenomenon explains our cognitive bias to “inflate the importance of recent stimuli or observations.”
Whether it’s the work of destiny or simply our brains’ prejudice towards patterns, I have no idea. However, the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon does explain a whole lot when it comes to my understanding of food waste.
Last August, I happened upon an article about Sweetgreen’s WastED salad. Inspired by Dan Barber’s sustainability project, the trendy salad joint decided to create a salad with “uncelebrated” food products (think broccoli stalks, carrot ribbons, kale stems, etc) to encourage customers to consider the impact of food waste.
A quick Google search later and I was hooked. In shock that globally, 4 billion tons of food is wasted annually, I began to be more conscious about the amount of waste I was producing. No more tossing out carrot, celery, or beet leaves. No more dashing to the supermarket without giving meal prep some thought. And no more ignoring my freezer.
When I moved to France about a month later, “food waste” was all over the news. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
The French parliament introduced an energy bill requiring large French supermarkets to donate unsold but edible food to charities or for animal consumption. It also proposed banning the practice of pouring bleach over discarded food to avoid being implicated in the event someone becomes ill after eating out of the trash.
And then, I was wandering around King’s Cross Station in London on a mild March afternoon to pass the time before my train to Paris when a National Geographic cover caught my eye. A spread of distorted-shaped fruit lay within the publication’s characteristic yellow border. The headline read: “Eat Me: How ugly food can help feed the planet.”
Okay, Baader-Meinhof, you win.
According to the article’s author Elizabeth Royte, 800 million people worldwide suffer from hunger. However, the 2.9 trillion pounds of food that is squandered annually (133 billion of which is wasted within the United States) is enough to feed every one of these hungry people more than twice over. In developing nations, food is lost earlier in the supply chain due to a lack of adequate storage facilities, infrastructure, and refrigeration. However, in developed nations, food is wasted farther down in the supply chain, either because retailers order too much, supermarkets reject food for cosmetic reasons, or consumers toss perishables before their expiration date.
In light of these statistics, the United States and the United Nations have pledged to halve food waste by 2030 through various education campaigns and food loss reduction initiatives. If this goal is met, enough food could be saved to feed at least 1 billion people.
Wondering what you can do to contribute to the cause? It’s surprisingly easier than you think.
1. Plan your meals.
Take a few minutes on Sunday night to think about your meals for the week and create a comprehensive grocery list. That way, you’ll avoid buying more than you need (or impulse buying).
2. Organize your refrigerator.
When you come home from the supermarket, put new purchases in the back of the refrigerator and older food up front. That way, you won’t forget about things hiding in the back corners.
3. Use your freezer.
If you find yourself buying more food than you can eat, freeze and defrost it when you’re ready to use it. Foods that freeze well include potatoes, pumpkins, squash, corn, fruit, bread, and meat.
4. Get creative.
Think twice before tossing out vegetable or meat scraps because they can make a great soup stock. And, if possible, use the entire vegetable from root-to-stem in your cooking (ex: radish tops, broccoli stalks, carrot tops, and cauliflower stems).
5. Store food in the right places.
Use airtight containers and don’t put other fruits next to apples (doing so will accelerate the ripening process).
6. Don’t be afraid of leftovers.
And if you’re looking for inspiration, check out bigoven.com, a site where you can input up to three leftover ingredients for hundreds of recipe ideas.
My go-to “clean out the refrigerator” meals are loaded breakfast scrambles, smoothies, and stir-frys.
7. Don’t throw food out just because the “use buy” or “best buy” date has passed.
These are the dates that the manufacturer deems the product to be at peak freshness. Just because a date has passed does not always mean the food is unsafe to eat. In fact, according to CNN, dates do not correlate to a risk of food borne illness. Rather, the food dating system, which emerged in the 1970s, solely indicates freshness so that consumers know when a product is at its peak. In other words, expired food does not always translate to inedible food, so it’s best to trust your judgment.
When you absolutely have to throw food away, compost it!
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
- Have you ever experienced the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon?
- Do you have any other tips to reduce food waste?
- What are your go-to meals to clean out the refrigerator?