The problem of how to reduce food waste is unique to industrialized nations. In the U.S., it is estimated that we waste 40 percent of the food we grow, primarily in home cooking and food service. This is a huge concern for our planet and its people, as food waste is a major contributor to climate change, and hunger continues to plague vulnerable families across the globe. We recently spoke with Danielle Todd, the director of Make Food Not Waste, a Detroit-based nonprofit organization founded in 2017, to learn more about how home cooks can reduce food waste and save money on groceries at the same time.
Teaching Michiganders to Make Food Not Waste
Through education, food recovery, and advocacy, Make Food Not Waste is on a mission to inspire home cooks to waste less food, raise awareness, and demonstrate how to repurpose food that would otherwise go uneaten. “Composting is great, but the best thing we can do is not waste food in the first place, by using leftovers and shopping more efficiently,” Todd says.
With the knowledge that Detroit has a 39 percent food insecurity rate, Make Food Not Waste launched a program to create meals out of “found food” for at-risk families that are “delicious, plant-forward, and fresh.” They partner with Food Rescue US–Detroit to distribute 250 servings each week, and utilize ingredients that would otherwise go to waste, such as leftover pulp from juicing companies and slightly overripe bananas.
Make Food Not Waste recently entered into a two and a half year partnership with the National Resources Defense Council. This will allow the organization to scale its impact, increase its knowledge base, and push for policy change around municipal food waste. “Michigan is an agricultural state with a goal of climate neutrality by 2050,” says Todd. “If we’re going to reach this goal, we need to put new policies and incentives in place. If you’re thinking about how to battle climate change, you have to include food.”
What You Can Do to Reduce Food Waste
The good news is that food waste is a problem we can solve – starting in the home! “You need to meet people where they are,” Todd emphasizes. “The two biggest reasons people throw food away are because they don’t want boring leftovers, or because they throw away items prematurely.” To combat these common problems, consider some of these tips that she offers to help home cooks think differently about the ingredients and by-products that tend to be discarded:
- Save starchy water from boiling potatoes and pasta—it makes a great soup thickener!
- Don’t throw away the tops of carrots, or broccoli stalks! They can be used in a variety of recipes.
- Think differently about banana peels. Some enterprising vegans even make “bacon” or “pulled pork” out of them!
- Repurpose your leftovers into an entirely new meal. For example, day-old mashed potatoes can be turned into a crispy mashed potato bowl with eggs and greens.
- Grocery shop more frequently (if you can). People are more likely to throw things away if the fridge goes too long between trips.
- Understand what date labels mean. “Best-by” and “sell-by” are not expiration dates. Use the senses; see, smell, and taste the food to determine if it is past its prime.
- Lastly, invest in local growers, processors, restaurants, urban farms, and independent food businesses. It all helps to minimize waste and contribute to a healthy food ecosystem with high-quality ingredients and well-paid employees.
Lastly, if aiding the planet and its people isn’t enough motivation, it is estimated that families of four can save anywhere from $1600 – $2200 a year by not throwing as much food away. That’s huge! We can all save a lot of cash by being more efficient with our groceries.
Want to reduce food waste in your home? Check out Make Food Not Waste to learn more about the organization and get involved. Also, try our scrappy stock recipe that utilizes vegetable remains that every home cook accumulates, and share more ideas to eliminate food waste in the comments below.