Shop ’til You Drop; Let’s Talk Sustainable Food Shopping
We have all experienced that moment when you open your refrigerator and are immediately confronted by the foul smell of something gone bad. That scent leads to a frantic examination of every item in the fridge until you can identify the moldy fruit, spoiled milk, or rotten eggs that have survived long past their expiration date. In other words, we all know that food goes bad. To avoid selling items that have already passed their prime, most stores label food with a “sell-by” date, after which the food must be tossed if it has not been sold. Of course, this food has not gone bad yet, but stores do not want to sell non-perishables that will expire shortly after being purchased. It is thus inevitable that with our complex systems of food production and consumption, our restaurants, grocery stores, and any other food suppliers end up accumulating massive amounts of waste.
It is estimated that 8–10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are directly related to food waste, or food that is not consumed. This waste accumulates across the entire food production process: before reaching stores, ugly produce is thrown away; after being purchased, food expires in people’s homes; and perhaps most harmfully, while in stores, an overabundance of good food is tossed after reaching its “sell-by” date. The entire process results in a cumulative estimated 40% of produced food going to waste across the supply chain in the United States. Thankfully, governments have identified food waste as one of many high-priority climate issues to be targeted and have begun creating legislation that requires grocery stores and restaurants to reduce waste and increase accountability. However, as a consumer, you might wonder how you can prevent local stores from wasting good food, and that is where sustainable technologies come into play.
One example is Too Good To Go, a food ordering app that offers “Magic Bags,” mystery bundles of excess food (which would have otherwise been thrown away) packed by grocery stores, restaurants, and other food supply stores. Because the contents of these bags are unknown, users pay an extremely discounted rate, typically $3-$6, for a meal’s worth of food. Other business examples include Misfits Market, which sells unattractive and surplus produce or pantry items at a discounted rate; Imperfect Foods, which sends subscription boxes of grocery store rejected produce or other items to subscribers; and Full Harvest, which sells imperfect and surplus produce in the business to business (B2B) market. Each of these companies focuses on a different niche, but they all work together to improve the sustainability of the global food market.
These services represent the blossoming private food sustainability market. Businesses that target food waste at all steps of the production process are cropping up and attempting to sell, convert, or donate food to those in need rather than allowing the “undesirable” food to end up in a landfill. For example, Full Harvest is a B2B marketplace that is tackling food waste at the production level whereas Too Good To Go redirects food right before it is wasted at the consumption level. This industry is not only fast growing but has great potential to significantly impact the way our food system operates. Now is the time to think about your contribution to food waste, engage meaningfully with these businesses, and consider how to minimize your own footprint on your next trip to the grocery store.
Jane Urciuoli, Investment Associate Intern
In this FoodPrint article, Supermarkets Dig into the Challenge of Food Waste, Jodi Helmer takes a deeper dive into the impacts and unknowns of supermarket waste.
If you are looking for other ways to make food shopping and cooking more sustainable, here is a list of 8 tips for at-home cooks looking to reduce their food waste from the NRDC.
Looking to understand more about this topic? Watch 2017’s documentary Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, produced by chef Anthony Bourdain.
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