Cutting waste

kelsie dewar

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

By now, it’s likely that you’ve come across the above quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead at some point in your life. It’s the perfect representation of the notion that true change can start from the bottom. Social movements, started by thoughtful and committed citizens with the will to make a difference, can have lasting impacts.

The formation and continued celebration of Earth Day is one of many examples solidifying the truth behind Mead’s statement. Started from a grassroots effort in communities across the country in 1970, Earth Day, celebrated each year on April 22, has grown into a global event with more than one billion participants.

From local volunteer efforts to pick up trash, plant trees and fundraise for the conservation of community forests and wildlife, to larger scale initiatives aimed at influencing politics and building global awareness of environmental issues, it’s truly amazing to watch the power of human mobilization positively affect our world.

I think it’s safe to say that most people who call the Upper Peninsula home consider themselves nature lovers to some extent, so I may be preaching to the choir here. But I thought this would be a great time to revisit a few ways that we can be more sustainable in our everyday lives, since there is always room for improvement. Since this column is food related, I’ll make that my focus.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food waste is estimated at 30-40% of the food supply, or about 133 billion pounds of food annually. It’s the single largest component filling up municipal landfills, where it takes years to break down and, in the process, generates methane — one of the most potent greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere. By changing our habits and consciously working to reduce waste in our own homes, we can reduce the amount of food (and food-related waste such as packaging) that reaches our landfills.

First, we can make changes in our buying habits:

¯ Plan out your meals ahead of time before stepping foot in the grocery store. Make a list and stick to it — buy only what you know you’ll eat and resist the urge to impulse buy.

¯ Buy produce that’s in season and grown locally, if possible. Locally grown food is more nutrient-rich, tastes better and has traveled fewer miles. Plus, it supports your local farmers, and in turn, the local economy.

¯ Skip plastic bags, both in the produce section and when checking out. Single-use plastic bags pose huge environmental impacts, clogging our landfills and flooding forests and waterways, endangering wildlife. Instead, opt for reusable cloth alternatives for items that must be bagged. Keep bags in your car, purse, backpack, etc. so you never find yourself at the store without one.

¯ When buying packaged goods, choose items with reusable or recyclable packaging.

¯ Shop the bulk section. Not only will you save money, you’ll also reduce waste by eliminating packaging (if you bring your own containers) and will be getting the freshest product possible in the exact quantities you need.

¯ Shop consciously by choosing products that are organic and sustainably sourced. Support companies that prioritize the use of sustainable materials and actively work to reduce their environmental impact.

¯ For eating on the go, invest in a reusable coffee mug, water bottle, to-go containers, wood utensils and metal straws.

¯ Purchase directly from farmers or choose stores that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. Much like Earth Day, the Marquette Food Co-op was started in the ’70s by a small group of people that wanted to see a change in the way local consumers accessed quality food. From the beginning, protecting the planet through sustainable operations was written into the co-op’s mission statement and that promise is lived up to through countless initiatives aimed at reducing waste and emissions, supporting local agriculture, community outreach and more.

Once home:

¯ Prepare what you have on hand, starting with items that are perishable. Get creative with your recipes and have fun with it. Stir fry, omelets, soups and smoothies are perfect for using up leftovers. A few of my favorite recipes were born on “clean out the fridge” day.

¯ Make sure you’re storing your food correctly. Produce can go bad very quickly if not stored properly. Not going to eat your leftovers right away? Freeze or preserve them!

¯ Organization is key. Keep your pantry and refrigerator neatly organized and clutter-free to avoid spoilage. We’ve all lost that head of lettuce in the back of the fridge, finding it days later in a sad, brown and soggy state.

¯ Cook using the “Root to Stem” and “Nose to Tail” ideology. Utilize every edible bit of each ingredient. It’s a fun challenge that’s also economical and delicious.

¯ Enjoy your time in the kitchen. Cooking at home has so many benefits, including increasing your awareness of what goes into each meal and how much waste you’re producing. Plus, you’re more likely to enjoy your food when you put effort into preparing it.

¯ Donate excess food to people in need. Local food banks and food recovery organizations are always seeking donations of both fresh and non-perishable food items.

¯ Store and pack your food in reusable containers. Glass bowls with covers, metal to-go containers/water bottles, and reusable food wrap can drastically decrease our plastic use.

¯ Compost. With a little time and effort, produce scraps, eggs, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc. can be turned back into nutrient-rich soil.

While this list seems extensive, it’s certainly not exhaustive. There’s so much we can do right now to reduce our environmental footprint in the way of food and beyond. I encourage (and challenge) you to implement a few of the things above into your daily routine. And don’t forget to get outside and enjoy our beautiful home. Earth Day is every day.

Editor’s Note: Kelsie Dewar is the Publicity Coordinator at the Marquette Food Co-op. She loves all things food, and enjoys reading, writing, photography and exploring the great outdoors in her free time. Kelsie can be reached at kdewar@marquettefood.coop.