Did you know that more than a third of the food produced in the US goes to waste? Shockingly, 96% of that wasted food ends up in landfills, becoming a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, food alone produces more CO2 than all countries except the US and China and 6% of all greenhouse gases. The good news is that 95% of us want to reduce food waste, as reported by Mattson through the Upcycled Food Association.
As we approach Stop Food Waste Day on April 26th, it’s an important time to raise awareness about this pressing issue and explore solutions, both at home and in the food industry, to combat food waste and its environmental impact. Join me in learning how we can make a positive change and reduce food waste in our daily lives!
How do you start? Buy less and buy smart. Start shopping your refrigerator and pantry. Go to the store with a list of specific items. For those uneaten foods in your fridge and decisions about products to buy — upcycle!
“Consumers that purchase upcycled food products are certainly participating in reducing food waste.”Olivia Spratt
Today, the concept of upcycling has gained traction as a way to combat food waste. Upcycling involves transforming food items that might otherwise be discarded into new, value-added products. You may already be upcycling if you are making banana bread from overripe bananas or fried rice from leftovers. But the concept of upcycling has also found its way into the store with food companies now creating products that consumers can purchase and enjoy.
Just before the pandemic, in 2019, upcycled food companies collaborated to create the Upcycled Food Association to focus on reducing food waste by growing the upcycled food economy. According to UFA CEO Angie Crone, this collaboration was timely.
“If there was anything positive that came out of the pandemic, it’s that supply chains were exposed and consumers gained a deeper understanding of how and where their food and pet food comes from. There is a heightened awareness of and importance being placed on product sourcing and ingredients. ”Angie Crone, UFA CEO
This heightened awareness created an opportunity for upcycled foods to take off. In fact, Crone continues,
“Research conducted…revealed that when surveyed, 68% of US participants said that they “would” or “definitely would” buy upcycled foods”.
But what, exactly, is upcycled food?
As a Drexel University senior, Olivia Spratt decided to find out. Under the supervision of Professor Jonathan Deutsch, Director of the Drexel Food Core Lab., she conducted a Delphi study with upcycled food industry leaders to find out how they defined the term and achieved a definition through consensus.
The Upcycled Food Association used Spratt’s study and definition and asked academics to refine it. They came up with this meaningful definition:
“Upcycled foods use ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment.”Upcycled Food Association
Having a clear definition of upcycled foods became important as the industry moved forward so that the idea didn’t get diluted through greenwashing. Deutsch elaborates:
“As upcycled food becomes more popular, it is important that a shared understanding of what is and isn’t upcycled be in place. This understanding will help prevent “greenwashing,” where companies who want to associate their products with upcycling without the evidence or practices position themselves as upcyclers. A shared understanding through the definition also helps us measure the positive environmental impact that upcycling can have.”Professor Jonathan Deutsch
How Certified Upcycled Food Can Help Stop Food Waste
The Upcycled Food Association (UFA) created an upcycled food certification that you can use to find foods that follow UFA standards for upcycled foods. Certification can help with transparency as well as consumer recognition.
“Part of the incentive for creating a universal definition for Upcycled foods was targeted at consumer recognition and perception. We wanted the term “Upcycled” to mean something to consumers in the same way that the terms “USDA organic”, “non-gmo” or “certified humane” do. Hopefully, seeing a “certified upcycled” label on a food product would incentivize a consumer to purchase the product based on the understanding that the product is made from surplus food materials, which otherwise may have been wasted.”Olivia Spratt
“The Upcycled Certified™ mark, which can be found on packaging, is a communication tool that removes the education burden from individual companies, is a powerful tool for brands to convey transparency and credibility to consumers, and unites both companies and consumers behind a vision.”ANGELA CRONE, UFA CEO
Let Softly help you find products that align with your personal values! We base our recommendations on 3rd party verification through sustainability certifications, not unverified label claims.
According to the UFA there are currently 374 products and ingredients that are Upcycled Certified™ and can be found in over 1,400 grocery stores in the US including Kroger, Whole Foods, Moms, and Sprouts. Look for the Upcycled Certified™ mark just as you would the certified organic seal to find certified upcycled products.
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Stop Food Waste – Upcycle at Home
In the US, every person throws out the equivalent of 219 pounds of food a year. In fact, 43% of food waste comes from homes. By reevaluating our perspective on food waste and adjusting our cooking habits, we can actively contribute to the solution.
#1 Merchandise Your Fridge
Make it easy for people in your household to eat the food you buy and make. Put things you want to be eaten at the front of the refrigerator. If you put it out, they will eat it.
#2 The Leftover Conundrum
If you have leftovers, make a leftover night. It will get you out of a night of cooking. But you can avoid leftovers altogether by cooking only what you know you will eat. Instead of serving family style, go upscale and plate your food. I’ve found when I do this, there are no leftovers.
#3 The Freezer is Your Friend
Collect vegetable scraps and freeze them to make broth later. Freeze fresh fruit that’s on way out — the frozen fruit will make a perfect smoothie.
#4 Save that Banana: Join the bunch
When bananas go brown and no one wants to eat them, you can peel them and either freeze them for smoothies, or make banana bread. The peels can go in the compost. But what if you could eat the peels too? Try this recipe for Banana Peel Bacon.
#5 When Your Refrigerator Gives You Sour Milk—Make Paneer!
Use old milk to make paneer, a mild, soft cheese similar to ricotta. Add an acid like vinegar or lemon juice to heated milk, strain and squeeze to get a mild soft cheese you can use in Indian dishes like palak paneer or even in your lasagne to replace the ricotta cheese. For a more complete recipe and more ideas visit the Zero-Waste Chef.
Want more recipes to upcycle food in your kitchen? Check out this cookbook from Compass Group, the creators of Stop Food Waste Day.
#6 Share the Wealth
Have you made too much lasagne, even for leftover night? Share it with a friend. Did you buy too much cake for a party? Offer it up on Buy Nothing (Yes, I’ve seen a half eaten cake generously gifted and thankfully received). Do a check of your pantry every so often and donate those foods you know you aren’t going to use before they expire.
Most of us don’t want to see nutritious food being thrown away. By looking for certified upcycled foods and upcycling in our own kitchens, we can enjoy our food and stop throwing it away.
- Preventing Wasted Food At Home | US EPA
- 5 facts about food waste and hunger | World Food Programme
- Food waste is responsible for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions — Our World in Data
- Upcycled Food Association
- Defining Upcycled Food Products: Journal of Culinary Science & Technology
- Food Waste in America in 2023: Statistics & Facts | RTS
- Banana Peel Bacon • It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken
- How to Make Homemade Paneer (from Rescued Milk)
- Stop Food Waste Day Cookbook