Sustainable Food Systems: Everyone Can Help

October 06, 2016

During the World Wars, when certain foods were in short supply or rationed, people in the U.S. understood and appreciated the need to conserve food and not waste it.

This vintage war poster says it all and reminds us that the sustainability of our food supply starts at home with individual actions we can all take.

Strategies for reducing food waste are now being proposed as one way to help advance food security around the world. International organizations, like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), are encouraging government agencies, institutions and individuals to mount a collective effort to reduce food waste to help feed our growing world population and protect the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Food Recovery Hierarchy prioritizes actions for diverting food waste and provides guidance for taking each step. Estimates vary, but about 30 percent of the food produced in America is wasted, so there is much work to be done.

As we focus on this charge, it’s essential to understand that everyone can help make a difference. Health and wellness professionals can help explain that reducing food waste has personal, social and environmental benefits. Focusing on buying and serving only the amount of food that will be used and not wasted can help lower food costs and increase one’s ability to help hungry neighbors. Last but not least, reducing food waste honors the farmers and the resources used to get food to our tables. As one who has dabbled in home gardening, I’ve learned on a small scale what hard work that can be!

Once people understand why it’s important and are ready to change their habits, here are some concrete steps health and wellness professionals can help them follow:

  • Learn more about how many calories you need each day. Then pick an eating plan at the appropriate calorie level to meet weight goals.
  • Along the same lines, consume appropriate serving sizes of foods as illustrated by ChooseMyPlate and avoid making the large plate mistake. Eating or serving more food than is needed for calorie balance can affect the waistline, increase food waste and cost. The National Institutes of Health provides many tools and resources to re-educate people about portion control and serving sizes here.
  • Take time to plan meals. It’s “the best way to avoid food waste” says dietitian mom blogger, Jessica Levinson, who shares five tips for better meal planning. Use the meal planning worksheet as a practical first step.

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