When your mom used to draw lines from the string beans on your plate to her stories of children starving in Africa, she was right, it turns out.
We in the U.S. waste too much food, and, according to a report issued in August by the Stockholm International Water Institute, tossing away uneaten food also wastes the water used to grow and process it. This is critical because we can't take drinkable water for granted even here in America. And those in the developing world, where much of our food is grown, are often in dire need of it.
If we buy food and toss it out without using it, or we let it sit in the cupboard gathering dust, that's money out of our pockets that could have been better spent -- or maybe even tucked away in savings.
According to the institute, as much as half of the water used to grow food around the world is wasted on food that goes uneaten. Halving that amount by 2025 is crucial to maintaining a food and water supply that can sustain all of us.
Here are some eye-opening numbers: In the U.S., we throw away 30% of our food every year, according to the institute. That wastes enough water to meet the needs of every household in North America for a year. It also wastes more than $48 billion a year, the report found.
So when you go to the market, buy less food.
A radical, but not unreasonable, move would be to look in your shopping cart the next time you're weaving toward the checkout counter and take out one-third of the items you thought you wanted to by. (Or go over your shopping list and cross off one-third of the items before you leave home.) Maybe you don't really need the Hershey (STOCK QUOTE: HSY) chocolate bars and the Keebler (STOCK QUOTE: KBL) cookies. Maybe your family actually can settle for one flavor of juice and one type of milk. Maybe it's time to admit that those bulk-size items you grab at Costco (STOCK QUOTE: COST) often go stale or that your fickle kids usually get bored before you make your way through them.
Oh, and be honest about the amount of fruits and veggies your family goes through in a week. You can always buy more if they surprise you and clear out the fridge.
Even if you don't hit that one-third mark, I bet you'll still leave the store with your grocery bags lighter and your wallet heavier.
But if that's too radical, consider this: If your closets, refrigerator and freezer are bulging -- that is, you have to do some clever reorganizing whenever you come home from grocery shopping -- take a holiday from buying more. Don't buy any cereal, canned soup, macaroni and cheese, or pseudo-healthy snacks until you've made your way through what's already taking up room in the cupboard. Yes, even if they're on sale.
Cut back on what you buy by 30% and you'll save money as well as water so we'll all have enough to eat and drink in the future. You might wind up eating less, too, and take a few inches off your waistline. (Who among us couldn't benefit?)
And who knows, maybe the children in Africa that your mom was always telling you about will get a little more food from what you aren't leaving on your plate.