Raising Healthy Families with Moms Meet and KIWI

Can Reducing Food Waste Save the Planet?

June 14, 2022 Moms Meet and KIWI magazine Season 4 Episode 3
Raising Healthy Families with Moms Meet and KIWI
Can Reducing Food Waste Save the Planet?
Show Notes Transcript

Did you know that as consumers, food waste is one of our biggest impacts on the climate crisis? Discover how you can cut back on food waste and make more eco-friendly food choices from internationally recognized author and food waste warrior, Sophie Egan. In this episode, she covers the impact food waste has on our planet, shares her tips for reducing it in our everyday lives, and so much more.

Chrissy:

Welcome to raising healthy families with Moms Meet and KIWI. We're giving you the tools to enjoy the beauty and chaos of life with little ones in the healthiest way possible.

Maureen:

Hi everyone, I'm Maureen Frost, editorial director and today's host. In this episode I'm talking with internationally recognized author Sophie Egan about the environmental impact of food waste and what we can do about it. This episode is brought to you in part by Hungry Planet. Whether you're following a plant based diet or searching for easy meal builders Hungry Planet offers versatile nutritious meats that are 100% made from plants. Hungry Planet Chicken Crispy & Fried is delicious and good for you - packed with protein and fiber, no saturated fat, no cholesterol, no antibiotics and fewer calories and sodium compared to conventional meat. Plus, it's also non GMO. This summer, swap in this perfect plant based option on sandwiches, salads, or any of your favorite fried chicken dishes. Today we're joined by Sophie Egan, mom, author of How to Be A Conscious Eater, named one of Bon Appetit's favorite new books for climate friendly cooking and life, and the founder of Full Table Solutions, a consulting practice that's a catalyst for Food Systems Transformation, an internationally recognized leader at the intersection of food health and climate. Sophie serves as Director of Strategy for food for climate League, as well as director of the Stanford Food Institute and Senior Advisor for sustainable food systems at R and D Stanford dining, where she is co director of the Menus of Change university research collaborative. for over five years, Sophie served as the director of health and sustainability leadership, editorial director for the Culinary Institute of America Strategic Initiatives Group. Hi, Sophie, thank you so much for joining us today.

Sophie Egan:

All right, thank you so much for having me. It's great to be here.

Maureen:

I love this topic. And I cannot wait to jump into our questions today. Food waste is something I personally try my best to avoid with my kids and our family. But it can be so hard. Before we jump all the way in, I wanted to, to get to know you a little bit better introduce you a little bit more to our audience. So can you share how you got started in this area of food, health and climate? And what really inspired you to write your books?

Sophie Egan:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, it's been a long journey I in college was kind of all over the place in terms of picking a major I waited to the last possible minute, I was dabbling in all the different disciplines. And it's only now that I realize it's because I'm a systems thinker. And food systems in particular really require interdisciplinary approaches. But it took quite a circuitous route. One of the big lightbulb experiences for me was, I studied in Bologna, the stomach of Italy, when I was in college, and actually took a class on the culinary history of food and, and this idea of food culture, and set me on this whole path as an author, and writer, and most recently, that culminated in a desire to bring together all the different aspects of the science of climate science, nutrition, science, food, ethics, and values and really make it practical, actionable guide for people. And that's what inspired the book, How to be a Conscious Eater.

Maureen:

I love that so much just because you know, when you're younger, you're still exploring and figuring out what you want to do. So even though you didn't feel like you had this straightforward path that you knew what you're gonna do at the end, everything led you to where you are. And it's such an impactful thing that you have created and that you work for. So it's really awesome. And that's why we love having you here to learn from you. So can you share with us what does it mean to be a conscious eater?

Sophie Egan:

Yeah, so being a conscious Eater is not a diet. It's really a mindset, a - an intention for your lifetime for your family to align your food choices with your values. And that means a lot of different things. What I suggest is that you ask yourself three questions when deciding whether food is worth your hard earned grocery dollars, whether it's worth picking at a restaurant, and those questions are is it good for me? Is it good for others? And is it good for the planet? And good for me really means the whole me the whole you? Nutritionally yes, but also your mental health your emotional well being does it bring you joy? Is it delicious? Does it bring back fond memories times with family, you know, baking cookies with your grandmother, all those things? So it's nutrition and diet quality and kind of disease prevention. Yes. But it's a much more holistic sense of health and to be to be conscious food for others is how does the food affect everyone along the food supply chain to get from farm to fork or farm to grocery baskets, animals and the people who make your food possible. I think for the planet, and that's really accounting for all the different ways that food production has an impact, land use water use, carbon emissions, other emissions, biodiversity impacts and beyond. And more often than not, you can be a conscious eater by at least kind of answering yes to one of those questions. And the best case scenario is you hit the trifecta, and you enjoy foods that check all three boxes.

Maureen:

Yeah, that's great. It's great to strive for. And it's a really healthy way of looking at your eating and your your choices when you're at the grocery store. So when we talk about being good for the planet, when it comes to food, one of the topics that always comes up is food waste. So why is food waste so problematic? And what is actually happening with that?

Sophie Egan:

Yeah, so food waste is a particularly pernicious problem, because it's so solvable. What I mean is that, right now, globally, about 30% of food is wasted, the US has about 40%, at the same time that millions of Americans don't have enough to eat. So what that tells us is that this is not a production problem. And often the conversation gets skewed in that direction, we haven't a food, it's just not in the right places. So it's, that's one huge aspect is just the distribution and the ways that our supply chains, we saw this with a pandemic, that there's completely different supply chains that go to household foods versus go to wholesale or food service. So there's a lot of ways we can build resilience and great- greater flexibility into food system. But the other big issue with food waste is that it's a huge driver of, of emissions of climate change. And, you know, it's one of those things that is actually deemed one of the biggest solutions. I believe it's one of the biggest sources of emissions, it's rated if it were a country, food waste would be the third largest emitter after China and the US we know crazy. And yet, it's also rated number one solution on Project Drawdowns list of most effective ways to reverse global warming. So it's a double edged sword. It's this huge problem, but it's a solvable problem. And not to mention all the huge economic impacts for us as eaters on a household budget level hundreds of dollars a year of wasted food, and then also as a country, and all that the huge amount of money to spend on food that's not even getting eaten.

Maureen:

I'm glad that you brought that up, because we actually had Dr. Jonathan Foley from Project Drawdown on our last season. And he really drove home the idea that food waste is a huge, huge, impactful contributor to climate change. And I, I you know, I am very interested in this topic, read about it all the time, I didn't realize that. So it's really important for us to understand how important it is to think about this. So what are some of the ways that food waste impacts the environment and the climate crisis? How does this actually work?

Sophie Egan:

Yeah, I mean, I'm with you, when I first learned that it was as big of a contributor as it is it It shocked me, but it just shows you that it's, it's a reflection of just how much natural resources go into the water, the land use of fertilizer, the labor harvesting, processing, cleaning, milling, packaging, transporting, and then disposing of food from the entire food chain. And that's, that's what's reflected in that big number. Now, what occurs is it it's it's the emissions from all the things I just mentioned. But then the worst part of it is actually what, for food that's not eaten, is it when it goes to landfill, as opposed to getting composted? It emits methane gas, and that's an greenhouse gas emissions or greenhouse gas, it's even way more potent than carbon. And so that's, again, a solvable part of food waste is is prevention upstream is the best case scenario preventing weight food from being wasted, you know, at the outset, but then once we have food kind of in our homes or in restaurants or in grocery stores, ensuring that that organic matter is turned into compost, at least helps avoid those methane emissions downstream.

Maureen:

That's so interesting. I didn't think about that part either. I always learned something new. Can you explain the difference between food loss and food waste for us?

Sophie Egan:

Yeah, so these are kind of technical terms. You know, in those in the in the food waste realm can can debate about all day, but essentially it has to do with where it's the food is being wasted. So, loss often referred to at the farm level before it leaves the farm gate is how it's often described. So this might be it fell to the ground it rotted. Also a lot of the ways that our mechanized industrialized foods, mechanized equipment to support an industrial food system, why don't we feel are designed or not very precise, so you might be trimm-trimming off parts of a vegetable just sitting there, but they're otherwise totally edible and examples like, you know, beet greens or carrot tops, or if you've ever seen an actual broccoli, or Brussels sprout stem, like there's all these components that for commercial sale are not often are not often included in what actually gets brought to the consumer. So there's there's loss, essentially, that occurs there, there's also loss that just occurs much more frequently than in the US. But around the world, along the along the harvest, excuse me, along the distribution pipeline. So it might have been, it didn't, it wasn't stored properly in transit, or it, you know, it just took too long, and so forth. So there's a lot of technical advances that help avoid farm, you know, on farm food loss, waste has, generally the connotation that it's, it was in our sphere of influence as eaters or as shops or as distributors, where it entered a space of food production or food consumption. And whether it's one of the biggest sources is that we produce too much food, whether as hot mom or household, you know, cooks or in restaurants. And that might be proportion, size, and might be not forecasting properly, whatever the reasons are, that was wasted, because there was too much. And there's some interesting conversations occurring. There's a chef named Masimo Bhatura, in Italy, who's actually really advocating that we call this surplus, not waste. And I think the more that we do use words that indicate the value that is still there, the goodness that's still there, all the ways that the byproducts the uneaten parts of food can be preserved, or upcycled are turned into something that can be can be enjoyed helps us just shift the mindset, which can be half the battle, right?

Maureen:

Yes, absolutely. Have we been able to pinpoint who the biggest contributors to food waste are?

Sophie Egan:

So if you're talking about food categories, the food to food categories, most likely to be wasting our fruits and vegetables, and roots and tubers. So the crazy part about this is that these are some of our most nutritious crops, totally squandered. Right, and this is at the same time that one in 10, Americans eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. So you a huge nutrition gap and and, and real lack of access, and so forth, all the same time that so much produce and roots and tubers being you know, like potatoes and root vegetables are totally being wasted. So those are definitely among the biggest categories. And it just, it also is related to portion size. So I mentioned that we do know that in kind of a dining premium, the restaurant foodservice industry, overproduction tends to be one of the biggest drivers of food waste. And that relates to this point on consumers because picture like going out to brunch and the massive amount of breakfast potatoes that no one eats, or the massive amount of, you know, the French fries, maybe you just wanted like a fourth of that portion size of French fries, you don't need like a bathtub full of French fries. Right? So it's that interplay with the type soy foods that are most wasted and the kind of law drivers. So the reasons that these foods are being wasted, that really is where we have a lot of opportunity.

Maureen:

Yeah, that's a very good point, although I would eat everyone's french fry, I'm a potato person. But I totally understand what you're saying our portions are very big. And it's definitely something to look at as, as a as a country, you know.

Sophie Egan:

Well I'll just say to that, you know, a big reason, at a household level, the biggest reason that a lot of those who are produce that are wasted is because they're perishable, they don't last that long. And so this is where things like canning, preserving, drying, even buying frozen, one of the best things you can do is just buy frozen buy. Anything that will last a little bit longer. This is there have been actually some studies that are kind of interesting, where household who are getting more of the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables are also wasting more food. And it just goes that hand in hand if they're getting that bounty of fresh produce in their homes. Good for them nutritionally, but environmentally, they might inadvertently be actually, you know, contributing quite a bit to food waste.

Maureen:

Yeah, my household is guilty of that for sure. But um, so when it comes to that, is there a way that we can upcycle our household food products to avoid wasting them?

Sophie Egan:

Yes, so many fun ways. I mean, there are now it's cool. There's no entire cookbooks about this. There's some different shows on Food Network, different Instagram influencers. This is really taken off as a area of culinary creativity. But there's a couple ideas for upcycling. So one is just the whole realm of pesto. Okay, so pesto, we can go about as one specific recipe but it's actually just a paste like in Italian, it means it's the paste it's something was ground or maserated. And you can really combine almost anything, can you kind of vegetable or or, or stems or leaves with any kind of nut or seed within oil cheese if you want and make some kind of sauce. So carrot peels, like when you're shredding carrots, that makes a really beautiful bright orange pesto, I like to do it with walnuts, you can use carrot tops, which is kind of the iconic upcycled example of carrot top pesto, right? Most people just rip off the carrot tops. I do I'm guilty of it. But that's nutritional greens right there, you might pay a lot for that fruit if it were a salad in a clamshell. And it's free. It's just on top of your of your carrot bunch. And you can turn that into a pesto. Even like kale stems or Swiss chard stems thinking of other things that you don't typically use directly, you often like peel off the Swiss chard leaves, right. So in general thinking of pesto, stocks is a big one, a lot of people have gotten into doing that. But those are some some small examples in the pesto realm. But it's it's sky's the limit, right? I mean, if you it's another kind of way to think about it is what else is a byproduct in your in your home. So an example I can give is coffee grounds. Right? You can actually use those as fertilizer in your, in your garden, like dumped them right in there, and you really enrich the soil. This is this is something that actually has been shown to improve drainage and water retention. So you're, you know, you're attracting earthworms and boosting your garden just by dumping your coffee grounds on there. Another example is if you ever get the can of chickpeas, the liquid in there, right? Maybe you just dumped it right out, you whip that up. And it's actually called the aquafaba that is a substitute for vegan baking. And so many things online, you can find out about that. But it's again, kind of just reshaping how you see the products that come into your into your home. And the last one I'll just mention is the whole category of kind of peels rinds, right think of citrus fruits, grapefruit, orange, lemon, you turn that into a great dessert by candying it for example. And last thing I'll say too, is there's now an entire upcycled Food Association, certified products. So you can check out, you know, all kinds of different brands now, where you can get snacks that are upcycled at the farm level. And that's really that loss versus wastes part that we mentioned, right?

Maureen:

Yeah, that's amazing. I didn't realize that. And I love that you talked about the coffee grounds because I'm going to do that definitely, because we just dump them in the trash. And you know, I've got all these new plans for the season. So I love that. It's very practical, you just have to kind of like give it an extra one extra step to think about how you can use the food instead of throwing it away. I love that you are definitely such a wealth of knowledge in this area. Are there any other tips or hacks you can share that we can use to avoid creating food waste in the first place?

Sophie Egan:

Yeah, so many would start with labels. Probably the biggest area of confusion for people with food waste is the labels on the sell by dates on foods. So there's actually legislation underway right now, because a lot of policymakers a lot of advocacy groups are really pushing to get rid of our very impractical, very outdated system, which essentially, is all these different versions sell by Best Buy, used by, best before. And 90% of Americans throw out food that is actually still fresh, still edible. And that's 20% of consumer waste. That's crazy, just from these, these really misleading labels, billions of dollars in wasted consumer spending every year. So what to do instead, here's what you need to know until the labeling scheme actually gets updated on a federal level. Basically, the most foods can go past their dates. That's something to know. Most of the time you can you do need to be cautious, especially for anyone who's pregnant or breastfeeding or some foods that kind of go in that more sensitive category. So be be in general be cautious the same way that you would with those foods if you're pregnant. Use your all your senses. Eyes, nose, do you see mold, there's something smell off. You can really tell if a food is actually not no longer good to eat. If you're unsure a phenomenal resource is called Savethefood.com and it has everything you need to know like mold on bread versus mold on cheese and what's safe, what's not what do I need to look for it goes category by category. But essentially the, the thing with the labeling scheme is that they're actually markers of quality, not taste. And that's the confusion. And that's where we truly need a policy intervention. But those are some tips you can kind of, you know, navigate. In the meantime, a couple other things really have to do with meal planning and with how you even bring food into your home in the first place. So this is gonna sound very obvious. But people who make a grocery list, waste less food. And this is because so much of wasted food comes from impulse buy, we've all been there, not blaming anyone. But when you really have a game plan, like I need to buy these things, because I'm going to turn it into this breakfast and this lunch for my kids and this dinner, you buy fewer things, and you you have an end a home for all the foods in mind, hopefully, ultimately, in your kiddos and your family members bellies, but you know where that food is going to be utilized, you have a destination for it. So making a grocery list is a huge, again, tool for that upstream prevention. Best of all case scenarios for minimizing household food waste. Another big tip, when you bring food home, make it visible in your refrigerator. This is one of the biggest sources of food waste, we can probably all relate like we had the best of intentions to eat those leftovers, but got crammed to the back corner of the fridge lost in the dark forever. It's not about you know being good or bad. It's just it was out of sight out of mind. So make it visible, people have special drawers, they've come up with like eat this immediately drawer. Or, you know, we talked about fruits and vegetables, so making sure that those don't get pushed too far back. There are also very smart designs in your refrigerator like the crisper has the function, but the fruits and vegetables, you know, in those parts. And kind of one of the things I do personally is I really dole out fresh produce in batches to the bowl that's on the counter. Because if you just put all the products you buy at once in a giant bowl on your counter, it's not going to last as long as if you keep something or fridge refrigerator and you're kind of again, over the course of a week or so doling it out. So keep it visible. And then really important thing too, is know that not all food waste is created equal. So of all the foods not to waste, the number one most important is beef. Why? This is because we're talking about before the environmental impacts. So beef and red meat in general, have the highest environmental impacts of any food group. There's lots of things you can talk about and other topics about what that means. Being a conscious eater, and I have all the chapters in the book that speak to that. But from a food waste point of view, it just means really pay extra close attention. You know, we want to try to avoid food waste in general, but it actually matters less if you waste say five things of celery than if you waste like half a pound of beef. From an environmental perspective that really matters. And cost wise there's obviously a huge difference there. Right? So really just knowing the huge difference, you know, tossing and uneaten hamburger wastes the water equivalent of taking a 90 minute shower, for a tomato, it's like four or five minutes. Holy moly, right.

Maureen:

Wow. Wow, that is that is crazy. But everything that you just told us is really practical. And it's it's definitely going to be easy to put these practices into place in your family, especially the meal planning thing I know that's, that's just something that my husband and I, we tried to be conscious about it at the beginning of the week, some weeks, we do good some weeks we fail. But it really helps you to keep on track and also helps us at least not go back to the grocery store five times in a week. And then every time you go back to the grocery store, you're picking up like odds and ends. And then all of a sudden, like not only do you have more food than you need in your house, but you're also has spent so much more money to so that's really great. And it's it's very powerful to hear about the vegetable versus the meat waste. Does that mean that there are certain diets or lifestyles that create more food waste than others? And ones that are better for the planet?

Sophie Egan:

Yeah, so in general, definitely emphasizing foods from the plant kingdom has a lower environmental footprint than eating a meat centric but particularly red meat. So in the US red meat is beef, pork and lamb. And it just has to do with the I'm really speaking to help those foods are produced in the US, which is typically feedlot or you know livestock, industrial livestock production and the enormous kind of emissions and environmental polls associated with those. So that's as a general principle does not mean you need to go vegan or vegetarian altogether. But from a food waste point of view, you know, that's just kind of general rule or In general, what the science shows about relative environmental impacts of different ways of eating. But from a food waste perspective, I think that the biggest drivers are actually the meat from a health point is actually that meal planning piece. Because if you tend to operate in a more spur of the moment way, it's almost less about what you're eating than how you as a household E, you are bound to have more, more weight. So another example I can give is about leftovers. One of the best things you can do as a family is designate a night of the week to eat leftover. And people get really creative with it, right like stir fry Fridays, or wasteless Wednesday's. Even just as, as as an eater, having that idea that you're carving out kind of a meal, to think creatively maybe means a little bit of cobbling together. There's a great New Yorker article actually about all the different terms people have for this like mishmash foraging hodgepodge like dozens of different names that people have come up with, to describe it. But it can be really creative, really fun, it does save you money. And I just think that that is a really important as a as a you could call it a diet, but it's much more of just your relationship to to, to food throughout the week. And another another example I give is, when you cook something, and you bought you bought the ingredients, you know, maybe you don't pick up recipes that have like 87 weird ingredients where you only need, you know, a quarter teaspoon of some specific spice that you're never going to use again. And instead of really looking at. And there are not that there aren't some recipe sites that are more oriented this way where you actually enter what do you already have, and then pick what you're going to make from that. I also like to think of it as the end of one meal at the beginning of another. So if I just made breakfast quesedillas on Sunday brunch, and now I have a bunch of leftover tortillas, that means I'm going to make you know bean and cheese, or whatever for Tuesday dinner. And thinking of it in that way. Right? The the random scraps from your stir fry on Wednesday can be the fritata on Saturday, and so forth.

Maureen:

Yeah, I love that we definitely eat our leftovers in this house. But I wasn't always that way. But it makes so much sense. And then you know, you also don't have to cook as as hard or as busy parents, that's, that's a win. So I just want to jump back to the diet and lifestyle real quick. So I eat meat. But I also am very conscious about my environmental impact. And I know many people are Is there anything that we can do or should be more aware of or things that we can strive for, that's like a good balance of if we are still meat eaters that we can actually be a little bit more conscious for.

Sophie Egan:

Definitely. So I personally love the idea of flexitarian way of eating. It's essentially an emphasis like the ratios of what you eat are proportionally heavier on foods from the plant kingdom. So that's fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, plant oils, herbs and spices. And it really doesn't eliminate meat or animal products altogether. But it puts them more in a supporting role versus the star of the show. And it means that throughout a given week, you might be eating a vegan breakfast, a vegetarian lunch and omnivorous dinner. So the word flex in in flexitarian. I really like because it's about flexibility. It's not as much of these hard and fast rules, which is what I take issue with on diets in general, that are so regimented, that you can't sustain them over a lifetime. And it's so much more important from your environmental footprint that you go flexitarian for your whole life than vegan for a summer. Right. And so it's really figuring out what works for you and your family. From a budget standpoint, cultural, relevant medical, or dietary restrictions or allergies, all those individual factors. And figuring out really what you can sustain and be excited to eat. That's the other thing. Like, so much of the kind of conscious eating or eco conscious or climate terian eating or any of those kinds of things makes it really feel like it's about sacrifice. And that's not going to make you excited to eat in this way for years and years and years. And I'm not gonna be in like you excited about when you're feeding your kids, makes sense, like, you're not stoked that you're, you know, giving them this hummus and carrots or whatever, unless you really are genuinely excited. So that's where I think it's it's essentially not this all or nothing. You know, I'm an eat-meat eater and I eat meat you know, three times a day and like don't take my meat that's I'm kind of one then and then like hardcore vegan, no animal products whatsoever is on the other end. And I think I think it's really that happy medium. And the science shows that you can have a really, really strong you can you can make a really big difference, your own environmental impact perspective if you if you do eat that way.

Maureen:

Yeah, I appreciate your perspective on that. It's a really important point. You should have joy in the food that you eat and creating it and serving it to your family. And then what you are doing does need to be something that you feel you can keep up and be sustainable with. So if you're, if you, whenever I tried to go to extreme, I'm not lasting. And so it's such a good point that, you know, something you can you can actually identify with and enjoy will will help you, you know, keep going and carry it on. So, you know, as we wrap up here, are there any additional resources, if anyone wants to learn more from you or learn more about how they can reduce food waste? Or learn more about the topic?

Sophie Egan:

Yeah, so I mentioned savethefood.com. I think that's one of the best resources in that. Yeah. There's, there's a new online platform I learned about recently called, we're all in or count us in I think it is. And it's kind of a global effort to just reduce your environmental footprint. And that includes food, but it's not only about food, and you might just get some other ideas and also think about, you know, help you situate the food waste actions that you can take within other actions like flying less, or, you know, getting solar energy in your house or getting an electric vehicle and kind of the whole menu of ways to take climate action and your individual household.

Maureen:

That's great. Well, well, thank you so much for joining us today. Sophie, I really appreciate your dedication to this topic. You are always such a wealth of knowledge in this area. And your tips are really easy to implement, which is the best, the best thing about it. So thank you. Thank you again for joining us.

Sophie Egan:

Thank you so much, Maureen. It's such a pleasure.

Maureen:

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