To reduce waste, we must be OK with fewer choices

1 billion pounds a year. That is the amount of food wasted in America every year. Over 40% of the food we produce is wasted. This is a huge number that has or will have some huge consequences. I work in K-12 food service, so I see this waste on a daily basis and work to reduce it. While there are a number of ways to reduce food waste, I want to talk about one in particular: the number of choices offered.

I was doing a breakfast catering event the other day for some teachers at the local high school. The event was planned for twenty five people, but only twenty one showed up. As the last two people went through the line, we ran out of biscuits. However there were still 10 full-size cinnamon rolls, around 10–12 cheese omelettes, and plenty of fruit left. The last lady coming through remarked, “next time we will have to tell them the meeting is for thirty people so they don’t run out of food.” This is exactly the type of attitude that is leading to the 1 billion pounds of food wasted every year. After the meeting had completely finished, we still had enough food for about 10 people, just not the one item she wanted. I walked around and found some office staff that were very appreciative to be offered free breakfast and coffee on a Friday morning.

If we are going to tackle this food waste, we are going to need a new, less selfish attitude toward food and the way it is served. As Americans, we are spoiled everyday by a luxury of choices. Not just with food, but with everything. There are 20 different choices of brands of every item imaginable available, either from a big brand name or a small boutique, and it can all be shipped to your house in 2–4 days. This luxury of choices leads to a lot of waste in the food world as well. Caterers and restaurateurs will over-prepare so that everyone has the same 4–5 options that everyone had. This leads to so much unneeded waste that we could easily reduce by a significant portion. I’m not saying that whoever eats last should be left with the cold, soggy leftovers. I’m saying that if we shift our perspective from “I deserve to be able to choose from the whole menu,” to “I’m okay having a few choices from what is available,” we will be able to put a huge dent in our food waste problem.

This isn’t just a problem for restaurants or caterers, but for all of us. We can apply this new attitude in our own kitchens, parties, and holiday celebrations with family. If we can each reduce our food waste a little bit, it will go a long way, especially during a holiday time filled with massive meals and vast spreads filling our tables. By sacrificing a little bit of choice, we can greatly reduce the amount of waste piling up.

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