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Discount Diva: Why we waste too much food (and how to stop)

I am the Discount Diva. I should not be wasting food.

Yet I do. A lot. And whether it’s slimy turkey or mealy tomatoes, nothing makes me feel guiltier than putting food in the garbage.

Turns out, I’m just a small contributor to a $165 billion food waste problem in this country.

Growing food and getting it to your fridge takes 10 percent of the country’s total energy budget, 50 percent of its land and 80 percent of its fresh water consumption, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. All that just so a whopping 40 percent can go uneaten. And in case you don’t feel sufficiently guilty yet, that spoiled food makes up the biggest component of municipal solid waste. And while it’s rotting in the landfill, it contributes to a big portion of overall methane emissions.

So why do we keep doing it?

We don’t see it going bad. Think about where we put our most perishable food: deli meats in the drawer, fruits and veggies in the crisper drawers, eggs on the top of the door. And what’s right in your face? Beer, pop, applesauce – stuff with a longer shelf life.

The solution: TheKitchn.com has a great idea. Put your condiments in your crisper drawers (you’ll find them when you need them), and arrange your produce at eye-level. As a bonus, you’ll have room on the refrigerator door to more visibly store other perishables. Store food in clear bags and Tupperware. Consider keeping an “eat first” container in the fridge where you can toss things that are on their way out.

Perishables have to compete with more convenient food. What are you more likely to grab from your fridge when you’re hungry? A bag of dirty celery that has to be washed and cut or a granola bar out of the pantry? Lots of produce in its natural state just isn’t as appealing as grab-and-go processed food with a longer shelf life.

The solution: Give produce an edge by prepping it. When you bring in the groceries, don’t even put your celery away until you’ve cleaned, cut and bagged some for the kids. We do the same with chicken and ground beef. We buy the big trays of meat, so we’ll put smaller portions into Ziploc bags before we freeze them. When it’s time to make tacos, it’s a lot less daunting to grab a one-pound Ziploc out of the freezer than it is to chip a chunk out of a giant, frozen block of beef.

We cook less than we think we do. I know you’ve got great intentions buying that ricotta cheese, skirt steak, chicken, yogurt, fresh basil and clams for your week’s dinners, but let’s be honest with ourselves here. There’s bound to be at least one night you won’t be able or willing to cook an elaborate meal. You might end up eating dinner at your parents’ house. You might meet a friend for an impromptu meal after work. You might hit the drive-thru on the way home and hit the couch rather than spend your night making clams casino. And all that food will be looking more doomed by the day.

The solution: Plan for just a few days’ meals in advance and buy less. If you miss a day’s cooking, freeze a meal’s worth of perishables. Do fewer stock-up trips or buy only non-perishables like toilet paper and soap when you’re loading up the larder.

Err on the side of freezing food rather than storing it fresh. Did you know you can freeze milk? And for heaven’s sake, don’t buy in bulk unless you know you’re going to use it.

Got consumer tips or questions? Email schristmann@buffnews.com, tweet @DiscountDivaSam or message Facebook.com/DiscountDiva.

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