Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Frontline tips from the auntie-food-waste patrol

Putting your food dumpage on a diet



At first it doesn't seem like much... a few mouldy bits you've sliced off the block of old cheddar; the heel of the bread somebody didn't wrap properly so it's all dried out. But how quickly it escalates.

How the heck did that half a green pepper worm its way into the back of the produce drawer and melt down into green slime?

Then there's the disgusting reveal as you screw up your nose while popping off the plastic lid from a container of god-knows-what saved from god-knows-when, unidentifiable as it is in a cloud of grey-green mould.

The amount of food we North Americans waste has been tracked for years. Common stats from the U.S. have indicated that, from field to dinner plate, roughly 40 per cent of all food produced is wasted. About half of that, or roughly 20 per cent of the total, gets dumped at home: Mouldy leftovers, shrivelled veggies, rancid cooking oil — all get dumped down the garburator or end up in the landfill.

Now the picture has a Canadian angle thanks to a study done by the George Morris Centre, an independent, not-for-profit economic think tank connected to the University of Guelph and focused on Canada's food and agriculture industries.

We don't come out smelling any prettier than our American cousins. According to the centre's report, Canucks waste $27 billion worth of food each year. The biggest portion is wasted at home.

At the retail and consumer levels, combined, 122 kg of fruits and vegetables per Canadian are wasted each year. That's like two of me (when I'm trim)! For oils, fats and sugars, it's 18 kg each year; dairy, 6 kg; boneless chicken, 10 kg; boneless red meat, 16 kg. That adds up to 172 kg of food wasted annually and we haven't even started on the baked goods.

This is crazy! So what with the Christmas season bearing down with all its over-plenty, I called on the "auntie" brigade — "aunties" in the traditional sense, when it was the old women who called a spade a spade and set things straight. In this case they included my mom, my Auntie Helen and my Auntie Dorothy.

Now, if you want to go "auntie"-food-waste, here's how, straight from the aunties' mouths:

1. Stop over-buying! See that exclamation mark? It means do it! The aunties and I guesstimate that 90 per cent of home food waste starts with buying too much at once. As my mom says, two people won't eat a fresh cauliflower, carrots and broccoli all in one week. Over-buying also pertains to dry goods. So a giant bottle of cooking oil has a cheaper per-unit price, but you won't be able to use it all it before it's rancid? Go for the smaller size.