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Preventing Food Waste at Home with the City of Santa Cruz

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More than 30 million tons of food waste is generated by consumers each year, comprising the largest slice of all sources of food waste at 37%, according to ReFED.

To combat this, the city of Santa Cruz has been hosting a series of webinars targeted at reducing food waste in the community of 64,000 Californians.

"Challenges are certainly faced by all to deal with both of growing, selling and even donating food," says Caylie Soon, waste reduction assistant, city of Santa Cruz. "However, if you haven't already noticed where the biggest loss comes in is in the home and in our homes and in normal, everyday residential communities."

Soon dove into four steps that individuals can utilize at home to reduce food waste.

1. Smart Shopping

This is where there's probably the most opportunity for you to practice source reduction. Simply don't over purchase. Even if there's a great sale. If you don't have a plan, that sale won't do you any good in the long run.

Next is shopping with a list and plan meals in mind. This will help determine about how much of something to buy and help avoid those impulse purchases.

You can also cross planned meals. If you need cilantro, for example, which sometimes is a hard one to use up, plan for using it in your soup, but then maybe plan another meal down later in the week that you can use that whole bunch. That will definitely help you.

Lastly, I think it's a good idea to have universal staples to encourage you to eat the foods that are maybe a little less than inspiring. For example, if you're trying to incorporate more veggies in your life, but you're unlikely to finish a whole bunch of kale, maybe make sure you have something you really do enjoy like your favorite sauce, or a nice cheese that will encourage you to eat those last few leaves before they spoil. Another universal staple is even something as simple as rice. If you have a bunch of veggies, but no rice to eat it with, you might be discouraged to pick up those veggies if you don't have a tortilla or something. 

2. Smart Storage

It's so gratifying once you're able to make that bunch of herbs last you a week or more. What I can say is definitely get to know your fridge and the humidity doors that  always seem to be a mystery, just with little dials and not much indication as to what they mean.

In general, you want high humidity for produce that may go easily like greens and brassicas which are like cauliflower and broccoli - those types of things. Low humidity is best for produce that is more likely to mold or get squishy and rot like mushrooms or strawberries. Additionally, the old jar of water with plastic bags over the top is really great for leafy greens and herbs and that goes for a bunch of kale, cilantro, any of those types of things.

And maybe not everyone knows this one, but waiting to wash produce until you're going to eat it also helps slow the rate of the breakdown. The added moisture from that rinse increases the decomposition. Hold off on washing all all at once. And when you start thinking about all the different foods you have to store, it can definitely be fun exploring the storage for those different products. 

3. Smart Prep

This is where lots of creativity can come in. You can blend a quick pesto with that extra parsley and freeze it for next time, for example. Or maybe you need to cook that broccoli so it doesn't go bad. Freeze it for a quick veggie option when you're tight for time. You know, everyone says frozen food is bad. And maybe sometimes it is, but it's because they load it with preservatives. If you're just doing it in your own kitchen, a fresh bunch of broccoli is not going to have the same effect as certainly that same broccoli frozen and it's ready for you when you need it. The freezer is your friend. You know freezing meat is also common practice. So, why not do the same with produce right?

Cooking will also help food last longer that is close to going bad, and then you've got some meal prep for your week. Lastly, I'll say that if you don't like chopping and preparing much in the first place, when you do decide to do it, carve out a little bit of extra time to just cut it off so you can grab it and use it for the next time instead of spending that time chopping, cutting every time you cook. Prep is often a barrier I've heard as a reason why someone may decide to eat out instead of cooking. If you have everything ready to just throw in a pan, time can definitely be saved and you may now be more inclined to utilize those things that you need to get rid of instead of throwing them into compost or worse than that - landfill. We don't want to put it in the landfill because that can create methane gas and greenhouse gas. So anything we can need to get out of landfill one and ideally out of compost as well.

4. Smart Savings

This is what the EPA recommends to reduce your food waste at home. Basically, this is just utilizing strategies and tools to remind us to consume certain foods before others that may be ready to eat. An example of this might be as simple as putting a shoebox in your fridge labeled eat first, so that you can use it to fill with that last bit of cheese. That might turn to also just being realistic with yourself. If you're trying to get more green again, but won't be able to finish that huge container, maybe consider buying smaller amounts or sharing with others. Again, having that dressing on hand will encourage you to eat a bit of that leftover spinach. I like to say if you can eat what you enjoy, and enjoy what you eat, less may go to waste, right. 

View this webinar and others in the series.

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