World Food Day, from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), hits Oct. 16, 2013, once again bringing awareness to the political need to end hunger. This year, the day is focused on sustainable food systems, asking, "What would a sustainable food system look like?... What would need to change to move us in that direction?"
On a large scale, the need for sustainable food systems is evident: Most recently, a United Nations reports found that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted a year, wasting water, land, and money. Italy alone loses almost $12 billion in wasted food every year, another report found.
Meanwhile, the UN reports that almost 870 million people are "chronically undernourished" and 165 million children under the age of 5 are stunted thanks to malnourishment, while 1.4 billion people are overweight, sometimes because of vitamin deficiencies themselves.
Plenty of food waste occurs even before food gets to the consumer, the FAO reports. In developing countries, food waste often occurs because of financial and technical constraints in harvesting and storage. In developed countries, food is wasted because producers, retailers, and consumers toss out food that is still edible and usable.
Here, five ways to change your habits to fight food waste in your own kitchen:
1. Stop Trying to Get the Perfect Tomato
FAO reports that in a developed country, almost 300 million tons of food is thrown out because it's deemed "unworthy" for consumption, whether it's because the fruit is shaped funny or the tomato isn't as red as commercial tomatoes are expected to be. "This is more than the total net food production of sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million people hungry in the world," José Graziano da Silva, FAO director-general, said in a press release. Similarly, understand the difference between "sell-by" and "best before." Normally, "use-by" is the important one to follow.
2. Eat Your Leftovers
Sometimes, casseroles will taste better the next day as the flavors meld all together. Sometimes, a leftover roast chicken will go perfectly with some peppers on tacos (better yet, use the bones to make soup). Clean out your fridge, freeze fresh produce you won't get around to eating, and save yourself some cooking hassle (and some money) in the days to come.
3. Start Thinking About Alternative Proteins
Don't just stick with chicken breast; consider buying a whole chicken and breaking it down yourself for several different meals. Buying whole means using the whole chicken, which means nothing will go to waste. The chicken feet? Perfect for making stock. The UN has, after all, pinpointed bugs as the next big protein.
Composting reduces the environmental impact of food waste, while potentially recycling nutrients to help more food grow. Food waste thrown into landfills doesn't end up composting; composting requires light and air, neither of which is provided at landfills. According to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city alone sends 1.2 million tons of food waste to landfills, costing taxpayers $80 per ton (that's $96 million a year).
5. Empower the Small Farmer
According to Heifer International, there are 650 milion small farmers worldwide, who produce 80 percent of the developing world's food. The problem? Many live below the poverty line. Look to support organizations that work with small farmers worldwide, and focus on shopping from artisanal producers who are committed to creating better products. Read more about the "New Local" movement here.