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Eat your veggies: California launches Food Waste Prevention Week

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The average American family wastes about 1,000 pounds of food per year. In drought-prone California, where about half of the country's fruits, vegetables and nuts are grown, that has enormous implications. About 20 percent of the water used to grow food in the state is trashed.

Andrea Spacht is a food waste expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She joined Take Two's A Martinez to talk about California Food Waste Prevention Week.

Why NRDC launched the initiative

It’s a range of partners that are hosting the food waste prevention week, including Governor Jerry Brown, and a large number of state agencie and nonproits around the state. We’re hoping to raise awareness about the need for all of us to get on board.

Food waste is especially problematic in California

Our focus here is on prevention, and that’s the right place to start. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a guide for prioritizing different strategies for managing food waste, and at the very top of that is prevention. We want to make sure food isn’t going to waste in the first plae.

Individuals are the biggest culprits

It’s across the entire food chain. We could be doing better at every stage, but when you break it down, consumers are the bigtest part of the pie – contributing 43% of food weaste in the country. Little behaviors all add up to a huge amount of food -- even more than grocery stores and restaurants combined. There are a lot of us in our households making small changes. It’s just one apple or one leftover meal we decide we don’t really like and it all adds up.

A lot of food waste is learned behavior

It does feel like it’s something that’s becoming a bigger problem. We waste more food now than we did 40 or50 years ago. We're becoming more removed from our food and valuing it less. It’s cheaper than it’s been in the past. Americans spend less on their food than other countries, so all of that contributes to our under valuing.

The Food Recovery Hierarchy

The U.S. EPA has developed this hierarchy on the same model as reduce, reuse recycle, so prevention is focused on reduce. That first layer of management strategies are all about better supply management, better taking stock of the food you already have and using that food rather than buying it. The next layer is about feeding hungry people and making sure surplus food goes to ensure the food is to feed people. The next layer is feeding animals, so we’re trying to ensure that if there are surplus amounts of food that can’t be given to people for various health and safety reasons that those go to feeding animals. And then further down are industrial uses, ensuring that scraps of food go to compost instead of to the landfill. Ultimately we want to keep all food out of landfill.

Food waste prevention strategies

There are a lot of them. Planning your meals in advance with a list, and sticking to that list. Making sure you don’t impulse buy or buy in bulk because it’s a good deal. Buying food you’re going to be using. Shopping your pantry or fridge before going to the store. Making sure you have all the elements of your recipe so that you’re going to follow through and make the best meal you can.