If you follow me on Twitter, you know I battled wicked heartburn thanks to a tasty but aggressive jalapeno ranch salad…and then promptly ate the rest for lunch the next day.
This isn’t just a reflection of who I am (it is a compelling snapshot!); it’s also a reflection of my focus.
For us, the start of this year is all about scaling back on our food waste.
While The Year That Shall Not Be Named basically turned our goals into an April Fool’s joke, it’s not entirely fair to blame this shift on last year. I’ve never been a huge goal setter, at least as far as blog writing goes.
Instead of setting multiple goals–and adding more pressure to an already-overdone school year–we wanted to shift our energy to something we already do. And spend time figuring out how to do it even better.
The best part of making food waste our financial focus is that the benefits stretch far beyond money. Oh, and it’s the perfect incentive to keep our fridge clean all year!
Where We Currently Are
It’s important to note that we aren’t starting this food waste journey from the beginning. Even when I was little, I knew better than to waste food. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t guilty of it, but my mom spent a great deal of time addressing the topic.
And it wasn’t just the “clean plate” rhetoric that a lot of families use. My mom was also a big fan of leftovers, but she didn’t necessarily call it that. As a family of three, most recipes were portioned too big for us. So we’d just eat the same meal twice throughout the week. (I still use this trick!)
She also taught me that I could always have seconds. Meaning that it was better to take a smaller portion and go back rather than “eat with your eyes” and take too much, only to toss it later.
A Little Bit of Garbage
So I came to my marriage and then to parenthood with some pretty strong feelings about and effective tactics targeting food waste. That only intensified when we got more and more invested in gardening, growing our own food, and composting.
Though there is still plenty of room for eco-improvements in our lives, we currently only use 1-2 trash bags a week. (Despite having a waste management system that charges a flat fee no matter how much you toss. Ugh.)
I don’t want to congratulate myself too much however. Not just because there are plenty of zero waste couples and families. But also because I’ve noticed two things: 1.) We are tossing more food than we used to when food waste was top of mind. 2.) I use the ability to compost as a justification of sorts.
“Oh, it’s only one tomato. We will just pop it in the compost!”
“Well, it’s only the heel of a loaf of bread. Dry material is great for composting!”
Composting is better than throwing things in the trash, sure. But no food waste is better.
And a $300 Grocery Budget
There are a lot of reasons why our grocery budget is so low. We live in the Midwest, and we have easy access to an Aldi. In addition to that, we don’t follow any particular strict diet for health reasons or otherwise.
But our grocery budget is also low because I spent years prioritizing it. In fact, dropping our grocery spending to $200-$250 a month for two people was pretty much all I wrote about at the beginning of my blog journey.
Now, though, we’ve let our grocery budget inflate some. We added a kiddo (who initially had to follow a dairy-free diet starting from basically birth!), and we also know that groceries cost a bit more now.
Truth be told, though, another reason why $300 is a real challenge some months is because of food waste. Though we don’t have tons of waste, we do have some! And as someone who feels that I will never be too rich to stop walking and pick up a penny, it is kind of mind boggling to just let myself continue tossing dollar bills in the trash.
RELATED POST: Why I Still Pick Up Pennies: An Updated Manifesto of Sorts
It’s Never Just About Money
I know that curbing food waste can have a significant financial impact. After all, that’s why it’s our main financial focus to start the year. It’s also why food is identified as one of the Big 3 in terms of expenses.
But as with most decisions that involve finances, the impact goes far beyond money and math.
The Eco-Benefits of Slashing Food Waste
I don’t need to tell you that there’s a crisis unfolding. Though after coming out of 2020 and into a year that’s proving to be just as dramatic, I might have to specific *which* crisis I’m referencing.
There is a climate crisis happening.
Though I strongly believe that the accountability of corporations and countries will move the needle much more effectively than anything we can do as a single household, I also think individuals have a responsibility to act.
And cutting back on our food waste will allow us to do just that. Current estimates show that one quarter of greenhouse gas comes from food production. Humans do need to eat and some greenhouse emissions might be inevitable. However, the fact that food waste accounts for 6% of total greenhouse gas is troubling.
Can my household’s actions alone combat this? Of course not. But we are responsible for not making a very real problem worse.
Waste in a Time of Hunger
In addition to the climate crisis, our country and my particular community are facing a hunger crisis. Feeding America estimates that 17 million children in the United States are food insecure. I know that grown ups love to pull that “starving child” card to try to get their kids to eat their broccoli, but I wish it didn’t ring so heartbreakingly true to me now.
It feels like a cross between being inconsiderate and just plain cruel to waste food when there’s so much hunger happening locally. Now, I know that I can’t actually donate a half bag of lettuce or a long-forgotten cucumber–two examples of recent compost victims–but I can donate money. By sticking to our grocery budget, it frees up a bit more money for us and that doesn’t have to just mean more savings or other kinds of spending.
RELATED POST: You Don’t Have to Give, But You Absolutely Should
Another perk I am anticipating with a focus on food waste is that we will be more in tune with what’s in our fridge and in our cabinets. While I would never donate expired or open food, I could very easily donate an unopened pouch of risotto that I’ve long forgotten the purpose of or other non-perishables that are inching closer to a “best by” date.
Final Thoughts on Food Waste as a Financial Focus
While I know we have other issues to tackle, items to budget for, and goals to set, choosing food waste as our financial focus felt right for the start of the new year. It has the potential to ripple out far beyond our finances, and it also should lead to some delicious meals. At least we hope it does!
So Tell Me…Have you set any goals for the new year? Do you have a financial focus?
First step, awareness, second step, change behaviors, third step, repeat step one and two!
But DId yOU gEt HeARtbURn THe nEXt dAy???
This is such a great goal for 2021. Mrs. Gov and I are pretty good about not wasting food. In fact, I’ve eaten things I’ve put in the fridge/freezer labeled “parsnip soup, <>”.
The kids are another story. We are like a broken record about them always being able to have seconds, but they’re getting bigger and wanting to portion out their own food (which I always know is going to end badly). Often we’ll have a pleasant side with a meal they don’t like and they know that they don’t get seconds on the side unless they finish their main dish. So they’ll ask for a second bowl of soup just to get a slice of bread and then not eat the soup.
Writing this comment just made my blood boil.
Teach me your ways! I’m so tired of food waste arguments in my house.
I like the food waste focus. We are mindful bur still end up tossing way too much food. We are pretty good at using up old ingredients for soups, etc.. Maybe you can also share recipe ideas that reduce food waste?
I would love to read more posts about your efforts on food waste! I’ve been trying to work on this too. It’s been so exciting to figure out new ways to reduce food waste (my favorite has been freezing veggie scraps to make broth!)
We no longer have chickens, so food waste is more of an issue now. I’ve been lazy about walking down the yard to the compost in winter and wound up using the insinkerator way too much (overworking it, to be honest).
Thankful for the dogs, who help with the crumbs from toddler meals…
Hello, I live in England and we have this great food sharing app called Olio. I have seen listings as unlkely as “3 eggs” or “half a head of celery” get collected! Some supermarkets and restaurants also use Olio to distribute unsold food at the end of the day (apparently charities collect first, then Olio.) I just spring cleaned my cupboards and gave away 50+ food items (some opened, some past best before), and on their non-food section I have given away 200+ items ranging from kids clothes to toiletries. It’s an amazing way to reduce waste of all types!