Stop Food Waste, One Meal at a Time

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation was set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and it has prepared a report on food waste in North America, at the request of the three NAFTA partnering countries: Canada, USA and Mexico [1].  It is worthwhile reading the full article, but some figures really made me think (again):  In Canada, the report found “… that from farm to table, 396 kilograms of food – annually – are wasted or lost per capita.  That’s compared with 415 kilograms in the United States and 249 kilograms in Mexico.”  Although these figures include any waste or loss from the field to our plate, of those 396 kg, the commission found that every Canadian tosses away 170kg (374 lb) per year, which is almost 43% of our total food waste.  Canada, Mexico and the United States have signed a United Nations pledge to halve food waste and loss by 2030.

That means that if every Canadian could reduce food waste to a minimum, our group efforts alone could get us pretty close to the 2030 target.  It is, of course, easier said than done; life gets busy, and food will turn into fermentation experiments sometimes, but I believe that a few small habit changes can make a big difference in one year.  I can think of two that are based on popular advice, but that I have modified to work for my reality:

  • Always make a shopping list before going to the grocery store … but I don’t necessarily stick to the list.  If I find a good sale on something I have not planned to buy, I ask myself two questions:  1) How can I prepare this item? and  2) What item(s) could I scratch from my list? If I find solid answers, I buy the item, having an idea of how it will not be forgotten in the fridge and, also importantly,  I will not end up with too much food.


  • Do not clean your plate, it is rude … in North America, but for example, in Japan it is the opposite, so in my Japanese family setting, I grew up polishing not only my plate, but my bowl of rice “to the last grain, because rice farmers have worked very hard to grow it” as my mom would say.  Being in Mexico, when I started going to friends’ houses or restaurants, I had the dilemma of whether I should follow etiquette and politely leave some food on the plate, or comply with my childhood programming (that image of the farmers in the muddy rice paddies is very powerful, and I am being absolutely serious and respectful); I compromised for a while, especially in unfamiliar settings, but eventually all my friends learned about rice paddies (whether they wanted or not) and respected my point of view.  Since then, I have met people with French or other European background (including my Greek/Canadian husband), and they really know how to enjoy their food, even literally polishing their plates with their last morsel of bread.  The ultimate nod to avoiding food waste, one meal at a time, comes from Miss Manners herself (Chicago Tribune, 1987) who explained that, funny enough, in Victorian times there was a reference with advice to “leave some [on the plate] for Miss Manners”, but that now she considered that “throwing away good food for the sake of manners offended her, and she was not that hungry anyways.”  Her updated ruling is that “you may now properly finish everything on your plate, provided you do not do it in such a way as to damage the finish on the china.”   I leave the parsley used as a garnish at restaurants behind, I think that’s more than enough.


(Oh, yes, Michael Bublé and yummy soup are in my next post for sure …)

3 thoughts on “Stop Food Waste, One Meal at a Time

  1. I was taught to finish everything on my plate and my mom would pile it on so it was too much. I had to start leaving food because I just didn’t want to eat that much and I had to “show” her. Since she didn’t like wasting food, that worked pretty well and my serving size went down. When I cook for myself and for her, I put food on smaller dishes because neither of us eat that much. Now that I’m alone, it’s simpler because I don’t have to worry that I am hurting someone’s feelings by not eating a lot. I’m not an athlete. I really don’t need that much food because I don’t burn that much calories.

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