Ok … I need you to head to your refrigerator and take inventory. Go ahead.  I’ll wait. Take stock of all the gross stuff that’s lurking in your fridge that needs to be tossed out right now. To keep it real I’ll do the same.  Here’s my confession. I’ve got a half jar of some salsa that’s got green stuff growing in it. I’ve got sour cream way, way, WAY past its expiration date. I’ve got some slimy Subway that I kept telling myself I’ll get around to eating for lunch. 

Whatcha got?

All my gunk just went into the trash. You too? I feel a little bit guilty about that. Not because I might as well toss a couple of bucks down the trash disposal (well there is that), but more because I know that food waste contributes to climate change. A lot.

As it turns out more than a third of all food grown in the good ol USA isn’t eaten or sold according to ReFED, a non-profit fighting food waste. That’s insane. ReFED estimates food waste in 2019 was $408 billion grown on 18 percent of U.S. farmland.

And ReFED says the biggest chunk of that food waste comes from homes …one refrigerator at a time. There are any number of reasons. Pick one of these or come up with your own (it’s fun):

  • “I was meaning to cook something new for the first time … and I didn’t get around to it because it turns out it was much harder than the magazine made it look.
  • “That pint of sour cream…well it got lost in the back of the fridge behind the pickles.”
  • “The bananas went south faster than I could eat them…and I wasn’t in the mood to make banana bread.”

Yup…guilty, guilty, guilty.

But if everyone with a fridge full of rotten food like mine were to re-calibrate their food habits there would be massive benefits. Project Drawdown suggests if food waste worldwide was reduced by half by 2050 there would be a reduction in carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions of 87.45 gigatons.  For reference, just one gigaton is equivalent to one hundred million African elephants.

Even Big-Ag acknowledges food waste is a problem. Here’s Bayer AG’s view:

“From an environmental perspective, an estimated 8 % of annual greenhouse gas emissions (approximately 4.4 gigatons) are created as a result of producing food that is either lost or wasted – four times what is produced by the aviation industry, by comparison. This in turn creates a vicious circle, contributing to an unstable climate, more prone to extreme weather events like floods and droughts that can wipe out entire crops…”

Slowing or reversing the negative impacts of climate change will need to be an all-hands-on-deck affair. And that means you and me too. We can begin by controlling what in blue blazes is happening in our kitchens. Gotta go make a shopping list of stuff I pledge to eat.

About Dave Dickey

Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Investigate Midwest covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. His opinions are his own and do not reflect Investigate Midwest. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

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