Looking to Reduce Your Impact? Start with Your Food: Our Tips to Reduce Food Waste & Support Sustainable Food Systems

environmental impacts food & beverage how to sustainable living Feb 07, 2024

Living in the United States, food is a hotly debated topic. If you’ve seen the movie Super Size Me from 2004, it paints a disturbing picture of American diets and food culture. 

In the 20 years since Super Size Me came out, has anything really changed when it comes to how Americans view food?

I would argue that we’ve come a long way, and while some of our friends overseas may joke about our portion sizes or how much sugar is in our food, it seems like Americans are changing the way we view and consume food.

That being said, we still have a long way to go. Some of the themes left out of the conversation in Super Size Me include availability of fresh food (sometimes referred to as ‘food deserts’), the cost of healthy food, our food or agriculture systems, and the social inequality tied to all of these impact areas. If getting fresh, healthy food in America were easy, likely everyone would do it. 

I’ve been seeing a number of articles in recent weeks talking about the American food system, the benefits to switching to sustainable systems, and what consumers can do to reduce impacts. Most notably, you may have seen this report stating that a move to sustainable food systems could potentially bring in $10tn in benefits per year. 

There are countless reasons why we should switch to more sustainable food systems and why we, as consumers, should support such a move, but how do we do it? 

The U.S. government is currently working out the details of the 2024 Farm Bill, but while they work on that, there are a few things we can do at home to support sustainable food systems and reduce our footprint:

Switch Up Your Diet

We understand that going vegan may not be a viable option for everyone right now, and even if you want to go vegan, it’s pretty hard to go cold turkey! That’s why switching up your diet can help you in your vegan transition or help you reduce your impact in increments.

If you eat a lot of beef, consider dropping down to just two days a week (maybe as a weekend treat to yourself!); if you strictly drink dairy milk, try switching to oat milk or other milk alternatives for things like your morning coffee; if you can afford it, buy organic produce to support the organic movement and get your daily dose of fruits and veggies.

Learn About the Different Agricultural Systems & Standards

If you’ve ever gone to the grocery store and been confused about all the different symbols that are supposed to represent some sustainability attribute, you’re not alone. 

There’s organic, regenerative, regenerative organic, cage-free, free-range, fair trade, and countless other labels that can get confusing if you don’t understand what each of them means, and the pros and cons to each label. 

Here are a few quick links that cover the basics:

Plan Your Meals

This is one tip The Underswell team has adopted that has helped us reduce waste and save money! Derek’s wife actually started this trend for us - she uses a binder and curates a collection of recipes to make every night, with one night being reserved for a leftovers mashup. Lest to say, this tip was easily adopted by our team and we haven’t looked back since.

I don’t know about you, but to me, the hardest part about cooking is getting inspired. It’s overwhelming to go to the grocery store and see ingredients everywhere, but not knowing how to put them together or what you could make out of them. The internet has made it so much easier to find recipes and get inspiration for your weeknight meals - Pinterest and cooking blogs can help you get the creative juices flowing. 

If you want to go the old-school route, head to your local thrift store and pick up some used cookbooks. These are cheap options that you can keep on your bookshelf for years to come and can even pass down to family.

If you plan out your weekly meals, you’re less likely to overshop and will save yourself some cash. The more intentional you are with your shopping will also lead to a reduction in food waste, something the EPA says generates 170 million metric tonnes of CO2e GHG emissions per year.


Make the Most of Your Leftovers    

Planning your meals can be great, but what happens when you have leftovers? It’s hard to make just the right amount of food for your household size (I try to cook for two, but end up cooking for 4 🙄 😑), so making the most of your leftovers is vital to reducing food waste.

Get creative with any food leftover and challenge yourself to make something you wouldn’t have otherwise. This can be fun and who knows, you may just find your next favorite meal!

If you can, be sure to invest in some quality tupperware too. Keeping your meals good for as long as possible will help you reduce your spending at the grocery store and will keep food out of the landfill. Your freezer should also become your best friend - you can keep meat, bread and veggies in there for months without it going bad.

Start Composting

This can be tricky if you live in an apartment, have no backyard and have a limited budget, but if you can, composting is a wonderful system that has multiple benefits.

If you have the space, composting in your backyard can help transform your soil. The nutrients that come from food waste will help your plants grow and create a biodiversity oasis, all while keeping your excess food out of the landfill.

If you’re limited on space, there are a number of composting devices on the market that can help you participate in the system. Electric composters turn food waste into nutrients in as little as a couple of hours, making them a favorite for those in small spaces. A heads up though, most of these devices or services are pretty pricey, so it may not be for every budget. 

Here are a few of the top electric composters on the market:

If you’re not in a rush and would like to save some money, Bokashi composting systems are much more affordable than electric composting bins. With the Bokashi system, it typically takes 2 weeks for the food waste to completely break down into nutrients for your yard.

If you’re interested in the Bokashi system for your apartment, here are a few recommendations:

If you can’t afford any of these options, it may be worth heading to your local farmers market to see if anyone would be willing to take your food scraps off your hands and compost it for you. If you live in an agricultural community like I do, there may be vendors who sell compost to farmers that would be more than happy to take your food scraps.

Reducing impacts can start anywhere at any time, and if you prefer to start with a different area of your life, go for it! Food is universal and connects us all to each other and the environment, but we recognize that not everyone has the same resources to participate in the sustainable food transition. Do what you can with what you have, and continue to improve where and when you can.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please share it with friends, family, coworkers and anyone else in your circle. Be sure to stay up to date with all things The Underswell by following us on LinkedIn and Instagram, and if you have any questions or recommendations, email us at [email protected]

Thanks, and happy cooking! 🧑‍🍳


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