Food Waste — We All Play a Role…

A study performed by the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2011 found that in the United States approximately 40% of all food grown for human consumption is wasted. While beef “food waste” is lower than that average, its’ 20% figure still staggers me.

Dr. Stackhouse-Lawson with my favorite blonde cowgirl...

Dr. Stackhouse-Lawson with my favorite blonde cowgirl (a couple of years ago)…

Dr. Kim Stackhouse-Lawson, through her work developing a lifecycle assessment for beef (NSF certified 2013), identified that cutting consumer waste of beef in half would improve the overall sustainability of beef farming by a whopping 10%. As a cattlewoman who cares about environmental responsibility, this statistic caught my attention.

Because I am both a farmer and a consumer, I recently spent some time thinking about things that I do, both at the feed yard and in my kitchen, to reduce waste.


As a Cattle Farmer:

  1. The majority of my cattle are born and raised in the Sandhills of Nebraska. This unique grassland ecosystem allows for cattle to turn land not suitable for crop production into meat all while improving wildlife habitat and protecting the natural beauty of the land.
  2. After the cattle move from the ranch to my feed yard in preparation for harvest, more than half of what they eat is “by products”. In other words, during the final phase of beef production, cattle are *recyclers* and eat the part of the plant that is leftover after its’ primary use is complete.
  3. The majority of my cattle live their entire lives within a two hour radius of my farm which reduces both animal stress and transportation costs. Both of these components lesson the environmental footprint of my beef.
  4. The waste material (manure) that my cattle produce is recycled by my favorite farmer and used to maintain soil health on our crop farm.
Homemade meatloaf with home grown tomatoes is one of my summer favorites!

Homemade meatloaf with garden fresh tomatoes is one of my summer favorites!

As a Mom and a “food consumer”:

  1. My favorite farmer and I eat dinner leftovers (reheated for lunch)
  2. Food not eaten by our family is fed to my favorite teenager’s Rhode Island Red Laying Chickens, and thereby *Recycled* into eggs for our family.
  3. We make frequent trips to the grocery story (mostly because as a working mom I struggle on organized planning for meal preparation, but on the positive side this decreases the amount of food purchased that deteriorates in the refrigerator before being eaten.)
  4. Any portion of food individually taken at the dinner table is expected to be eaten. Our girls are good about cleaning their plates and not taking more food than they are able to eat. This facilitates saving leftovers for future lunch use.

It is estimated that food waste costs the average American family of four $1365.00-$2275.00 per year. This out of pocket cost is in addition to the environmental impact of wasted resources as well as food security issues. While reform is needed at each sector of the food production system, food waste at the household level is the most costly as the resources needed to deliver the food to the plate are highest at this last stage of the food production chain.

How do you limit food waste in your kitchen?

Author's note: Reducing food waste is a personal goal.

Author’s note: Reducing food waste both on my farm and in my kitchen is a personal goal. I plan to revisit this topic periodically and hope that you will share in the journey by thinking of and sharing ways that you too can reduce food waste.

Together we can make a more sustainable planet…


Filed under Environmental Stewardship, General

17 responses to “Food Waste — We All Play a Role…

  1. Elaine Bristol

    Thank you for bringing up this topic! Since I have a one-person household, I struggle to eat items purchased in bulk bags (apples, oranges, potatoes, etc.)…but I struggle when I think about the dollars I could save when buying bulk items. This is a great reminder of the potential cost of throwing away food that I “saved money” to buy.

    • Two suggestions, Elaine. Have you considered freeze-dried foods? There are several companies that offer all kinds of foods in #10 tins. Some require joining a “club,” like The shelf life unopened is about forever, and opened is typically a year. Not as tasty as fresh, but fine for cooking. Examples: chopped spinach, diced tomatoes. Second, we belong to a nationally-affiliated local food co-op that brings us a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, called “Bountiful Baskets” ( Quantities can be large, but you don’t have to order every delivery cycle.

    • Glad that I made you think, Elaine! My favorite farmer just got a food dehydrator that we are going to try to use with fruit from our trees in the summer/fall — I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

      I figure with the topic of food waste, being conscious of it (identifying it) is a really important starting point and lends itself to more responsible food use. I know that it has been a great motivator for me.

      Good luck on the journey! Thanks for caring —


  2. theranchwifechronicles


    A couple years ago Food Network had a show on about food waste. The show challenged chefs to “dumpster dive” to find less than perfect food and make gourmet meals. It was amazing to see the food grocery stores and restaurants tossed out due to imperfections. Because of the food’s less then ideal appearance they claimed that consumers would not purchase it, so out it goes.

    One of my favorite Dirty Jobs episode was when Mike Rowe visited the hog farmer that uses food wast from the Las Vegas hotels to feed his pigs.

    Like you, I try really hard to decrease the amount of food we waist. When I do have food that goes bad, I don’t feel horrible about getting rid of it as the chickens are great recycles. I have to admit it amazes me how much of the scraps our barn cats will eat before I let the chickens out.

    • Love it, Robyn! You do a great job.

      Yes, much food gets wasted (even though it is perfectly healthy/safe to eat) because it does not meet tight visual specifications. As a culture and a country, we need to change the way that we think about food/resources in order to become more responsible. It starts with each one of us, so thank you for your efforts.


  3. You hit a nerve, Anne. One of my pet peeves is restaurants that serve portions that are big enough to feed Godzilla and then charge an arm and a leg for it. Two examples come to mind. We went to breakfast with friends a couple of weeks ago. He ordered a “breakfast chicken fried steak,” His breakfast had to be served on two platters, because the steak completely covered one of them. The same thing happened at a Valentine banquet. Those who ordered prime rib received a one-inch-thick slab of (wonderful) beef that completely covered the plate. And most of them ate it all at one sitting. That kind of excess can’t be healthy, whether it’s beef or anything else. I’d be impressed if I ever found a restaurant that served half the amount of food at half the price, and would walk away from the table full but not stuffed. Kudos to any restaurant that offers smaller portions (or a variety of portion sizes/prices) on their menu.

    Of course, my first tip is to eat until you’re full and then stop. This is the Prime Directive, stolen from Gwen Shamblin’s Weigh-Down Workshop many years ago, and overrides all other rules about eating out, including food waste rules. So whenever possible we ask for a carry-out box for the left-overs. Sometimes the left-overs from one restaurant meal have turned into two more meals. Sometimes when travelling one can’t take the leftovers along, and just have to leave it on the plate. I’m amazed at the amount of food left behind on other departing diners’ plates.

    My second tip is to split restaurant meals. Carol and I often order a single meal and a spare plate, and sometimes we STILL have left-overs. (Good servers put in the same care and effort they would have for two meals, so we often double-tip when we split a meal.)


    • It always makes me smile to read your comments, Jim. I can just picture the look on your face when you write them. I am glad that this is a topic that is near and dear to your heart.

      We don’t often eat out, but I completely agree with everything that you said. Whenever our family does eat out, we bring home any leftovers to eat ourselves and any extra bread/scraps etc. on the table go to the chickens. I have found that now that we have the chickens that I do a much better job looking for scraps/waste to recycle into eggs. They have made me more responsible (a great unintended consequence of our “laying ladies” 🙂 My in-laws eat out fairly often and always “share” a meal when they do for exactly the same reasons that you list.

      I am going to continue to explore the topic of food waste and hope that you will continue to add to the discussion!


      • Carol Ingram

        Not everyone has poultry that can be fed the scraps. In fact, I suspect that only a small percentage of Americans do, given the concentration of population in large cities. But we’re in the process of remedying that..we don’t have any right now either, but four ducklings are on order for delivery in mid-May! Quack, quack! 🙂

  4. It is extremely rare for me to be able to finish a restaurant meal. So I order something that will reheat well. I will always ask for a take home box. Sometimes I will just order an appetizer.

    At home, I will take something like ground beef and I will precook it and bag it in single use portions.

    I have decided that quiche and Quesadillas are good places to use small amounts of leftovers. Jambalya is a traditional use what you have dish.

    I also found that organizing my refrigerator–I use plastic shoe boxes for things like cheese and even lunch meat has greatly reduced ‘losing’ that package with just a little left.

    • Awesome ideas Cairenn. Thanks for sharing!

      We made egg casserole tonight with leftover sausage from our church’s pancake feed — a good way to use some extra things left in the refrigerator with eggs from AG’s hens 🙂

      I actually have “organizing” my refrigerator on the agenda for this weekend 🙂 It is long overdue…The NRDC has a neat info-graphic relative to optimal refrigerator use. You can view it here:

      Keep the thoughts coming!

  5. We have been reducing food waste since hubby and I got married. What we don’t eat either our dogs or chickens do. I think the only “waste” we have is the bones from our food and if they are dog safe they get eaten too (and made into stock before they get burned in our burn barrel) 😉 I have made it a goal to freeze what may go bad before it does and we eat leftovers from the night before for lunch as well. I try to keep my fridge and freezer organized and once a week we try to do an “eat clean’ where we eat whatever is left in the fridge that may go bad and make it a meal 🙂 We do all we can to have little or no food waste. 🙂

    • I have been expecting a comment full of ideas from you, Kim! Glad to find it 🙂 Love your “eat clean” idea — am planning on implementing that one at our house.

      I am a bit embarrassed that I was not more organized about working toward eliminating our food waste until we got the laying hens. They started me thinking about it, and now I am on a “no waste” kick. The more I read about how much food our country wastes, the more motivated I am to do something about it. I reached out to my daughters’ school this week volunteering to help with a reducing “food waste” campaign — I hope that it comes to fruition.

      Good work on the home front! I hope that all is well.

  6. Anne, I love how you are able to talk both about how you work to reduce waste in your own home, but also on the farm. Just another way farmers are “sustainable”.

    • Thank you, Anna! I try to “practice what I preach” 🙂

      We have been studying “food waste” as a family — trying to instill responsibility relative to food into my girls as well. I think that it is easier to do that on a farm because you see first hand how valuable the natural resources are that go into food production, as well as the work that goes into turning those resources into edible food.

      Hopefully we will all continue to focus on it and work for continuous improvement!


  7. Left over veggies can go in the freezer and when you make soup you will have a nice variety of veggies for it, cook some cut up beef for a while and add the veggies . You may have to add tomatoes but you have a meal made from left overs.
    I worked school food service for 25 years and the amount of food wasted was unbelievable. Kids today are so used to fast food they prefer it to real food. Parents brought McDonalds in at lunch time for there kids. Some of the kids were from really poor families and ate whatever they could get. The kids had a choice of chef salad, a cooked main dish meal or a sandwich, most of them wanted a sandwich but the hungry ones wanted the plate with the most food on it. I tried to make sure they had a little extra on there plate. I could not stand to know I had a hungry child in my care.
    Here at home we love leftovers, I cook for the two of us but have leftovers for lunch the next day, maybe even for dinner the next night.

  8. Kathy Creighton-Smith

    I wish that people would use some common sense with the “best if used by” date on food. My college aged daughters think that the food automatically goes bad and will not touch anything past it’s date. If the milk smells bad it’s probably time to feed it to the cats! Great topic.

  9. Pingback: Monkey In the Middle… | Feed Yard Foodie

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