Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Becoming Less Wasteful

What is your shopping style? Are you someone who grabs the foods that attacts your senses at that very moment, often lingering before heading to the checkout? Maybe you are someone who makes a list and strictly sticks to it? Perhaps you are like me-write a list and pick up everything you need then add a few more items that happen to be on sale that can be stored in the pantry so long as they fit the grocery budget? Whatever your preference is, I wondered if you had though about this side of shopping...

What do you think happens when you shop for groceries and grab that package of ground beef, let's say, then change your mind on the way to the checkout and dump it into the dairy case? Do you know where the frozen and cold items go that you return to a storeeven though they've come straight from your home?

I hadn't thought about it too much until I was shopping one day at my local Super Target and had a return to make. A woman ahead of me was returning steak, some cheese and a few other items. I watched the customer service rep dump the items in a buggy behind the counter. Since I'm the curious type, I asked what they do with the items later. I had wondered if there was a chance that meat sitting out ever made it back to the cold storage where it could be re-purchased as that may post potential health risks. Thankfully it does not.

However, to my amazement, not only do they not return it to the meat section but everything returned in the store and everything that gets picked by store shoppers up while shopping and left in another area of the store, like say a container of yogurt, all have to be trashed! What?! That really turned my stomach. We have people all over the world without food but we're throwing things out right, left and center. I understand the health side of it and am glad to know that innocent people won't get sick from consuming items that have made it down to room temperature and back for sale. The part that really bothered me was the in-store shopping bit.

If I think back to my own shopping, it's generally not cold/frozen items that I change my mind on while at the checkout lane if I do leave an item behind. However, I do see a lot of those items in their improper places in the store while I'm shopping which really made me think. The customer service rep wanted to assure me of the safety of Target's food and further provided details that if cold items like cheese are found in other areas of the store such as in the cold prepared sandwich areas that they don't belong in, the store employees have to assume that when they come across the cheese that it may have been in someone's basket for up to an hour and that it may potentially be unsafe. Wow, what a lot of waste and that is just one of MANY stores that do this.

The good news is we can help fix this problem. What can you do? The best thing to do is number one stick to a list, then you won't be as likely to grab random items that you may later leave behind. The second is to make sure that if you decide against a cold item that you've had for less than an hour, that you return it to it's home in the store which really takes under a minute and is well worth it in the end. This ensures that it won't get tossed. Think before you return. Obviously if milk has gone sour or a particular item was past its expiry date when you purchased it, you're entitled to your refund or exchange, but be mindful of what happens when other cold items are returned.

As with most things in life, it's not just the wasted food that could feed the needy that was the biggest issue for me, or the money lost by the store, it really goes much deeper. Everything is interconnected on this planet and I really took a moment to stop and think about the poor animals such as the cows that were not only slaughtered to begin with for their meat but then never even so much as got consumed. They were killed for nothing. :(  The other thing that crossed my mind was that agriculture has the highest CO2 footprint compared to anything else. This means all of the pesticides, fertilizers, water, food for those animals that don't get consumed were essentially all a waste too and helped further contribute to our global warming problem without having any benefit whatsoever.

With everything so easily accessible, pre-packaged and ready to purchase sometimes we are all just trying to buy our groceries, head home, cook for our families and get through the next task. We don't always think about what goes on in the store or on the farm. It is important though to stop and not only be mindful of our actual purchases but what goes on behind the scenes before our food ever makes it to our plates or back to the store if we've changed our minds. A great documentary called Food, Inc. was a real eye-opener for me, it can be rented at Blockbuster.

Of course an equally important consideration is of the many items that get purchased but never eaten, it is said that over 33% of all food purchased (as is the case with the above image regarding the U.K.) ends up being thrown away. A recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that Americans generate roughly 30 million tons of food waste each year. You can offset this by composting your fruit and veggie scraps that would otherwise head to the landfills.

It's important to wash and freeze fruit an veggies that start to turn and quickly use up the items that will expire the quickest vs. eating what we 'feel like' for dinner without a though about what might happen to it in a few days. You can do this buy checking your fridge and freezer every few days and moving items like yogurt, meat, milk etc., closest to the front that will expire first so that you and your family will grab those first. It saves resources and saves you money too! Click HERE for more great ways to become less wasteful.

What steps do you take  in your home to become less wasteful of food and resources?

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