Meal planning can help reduce food waste

More data, research needed to help city, residents make more efficient use of resources

San Franciscans may love their sourdough slices and fresh baked baguettes. But bread is one of the most wasted foods in homes. Instead of tossing the heels and stale loaves in the green bin, chef Alison Mountford recommends saving them in the freezer until they’re ready to blend into bread crumbs. Her San Francisco-based business, Ends + Stems, which officially launched this month, helps subscribers cook healthy meals at home while reducing food waste.

“I feel like there are very few advocates talking about what we should do in the home to reduce food waste,” Mountford told me. “There aren’t many resources for people who want to reduce their individual impacts.”

Approximately 40 percent of food in North American is thrown away by consumers. This is bad news for the environment. When stale bread, moldy strawberries and last night’s leftovers go to waste, all the land, fertilizer, water and energy it took to produce, manufacture, and transport them are also lost.

Food that ends up in the black bin, instead of the green, causes even greater environmental impacts. When food decays, it produces methane — a potent greenhouse gas. The United Nations estimates that if food waste was its own country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the United States.

And impacts aren’t limited to the environment. A report published by the San Francisco Department of Public Health last December found that food insecurity in The City is increasing. While some San Franciscans struggle to eat what they buy, others, including pregnant women, children and seniors, are struggling just to eat.

Thankfully, governments around the world are implementing policies to make it easier to donate and use good food. But figuring out how to change individual preferences and behavior — a notoriously complex task that’s hard for the government to control — needs more attention.

“We collectively waste more food in our homes than anywhere else along the food supply chain,” Andrea Spracht Collins of Natural Resources Defense Council told me.

Planning meals in advance is one way to reduce this waste and save money, according to research by the environmental nonprofit. Working off tried-and-true recipes makes it easier to purchase the right ingredients, in the right amounts, and avoid the expensive trap of impulse buys. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that the average family of four loses more than $1,500 per year on wasted food.

Businesses like Ends + Stems can help reduce these losses. Subscribers are given a grocery list and recipes for three dinners per week. The site also provides clear steps to prep over the weekend and avoid after-work stress.

But Mountford believes more resources and information are necessary to address the problem. She told me that almost all of her customers are women, and wonders what role gender plays in waste. She also pointed to a lack of data on the actual amount of food waste solutions like meal preparation can reduce.

“I would love to have good stats and more information,” she told me.

Mountford is not alone in calling for more research. In a report examining why food is wasted in American homes, the Natural Resources Defense Council characterized the issues underlying the phenomenon as complex. It found few relationships between demographics and food waste that could be generalized across the board.

But this doesn’t mean trends don’t exist. The report recommended that cities research the obstacles and ways to reduce the total generation of wasted food. It also urged governments to set climate goals that address more impacts from the wasted food than just methane.

There are simple tricks San Franciscans can use to reduce the amount they toss in the compost, such as turning their old bread into breadcrumbs and bringing a shopping list to the grocery store. But it will be hard to make the changes our City and planet need without understanding the many reasons why food waste occurs. Along with more resources, San Francisco also needs more research to address the problem.

You’ve got sorting questions, I’ve got answers. Email inquiries to bluegreenorblack@gmail.com and see your name published in the Examiner!

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com

Bay Area Newssan francisco news

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Police release an image a cracked windshield on a Prius that Cesar Vargas allegedly tried to carjack. Vargas, who was shot by police a short time later, can be seen in videos jumping on the windshield and pushing a Muni passenger who disembarked from a bus. (Courtesy SFPD
SFPD releases videos of deadly police shooting

Cesar Vargas killed after reports of carjacking with knife

New legislation would make sure supportive housing tenants don’t pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent.. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner))
Supportive housing tenants could get more help paying the rent

Supportive housing tenants struggling to pay rent could soon see their payments… Continue reading

Organizers of the San Francisco International Arts Festival had planned to use parts of Fort Mason including the Parade Ground, Eucalyptus Grove and Black Point Battery to host performances by about a dozen Bay Area arts groups. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Arts festival sues city over permit denial

Organizer says outdoor performances should be treated like demonstrations, religious gatherings

An oversight body for San Francisco’s mental health programs may be restructured after questions were raised about its management and lack of effectiveness. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Behavioral health oversight body looks for new start — and staff — after mismanagement

Members of an oversight body for San Francisco’s behavioral health programs said… Continue reading

The City requires the recycling or reuse of debris material removed from a construction project site. <ins>(Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>
<ins></ins>
Permits proposed for haulers of construction debris to achieve zero-waste

San Francisco plans to tighten regulations on the disposal of construction and… Continue reading

Most Read