Hey America: You waste almost 40 percent of the food you produce. WTF? Sure, you can address that by making behavioral changes, but, uhm... boring! Fortunately, we can fix this. With gear.
Water may be the essence of life, but its presence actually makes food go bad quickly. Dehydrated food = long life. Just ask your 7-Eleven clerk how long the beef jerky sticks have been sitting there. You can dehydrate food to prolong its usefulness with a variety of home food dehydrators. And dehydrating stale crackers and chips can bring them back to life like that holy water in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Plus, it's hard to turn down anything with model names like "Snackmaster" or "Jerky Xpress." While most home dehydrators are pretty wonky looking, the L'Equip wouldn't look out of place next to that server rack in your kitchen.
Like the Cold War nuclear arms race, refrigerator companies have long played a game of one-upmanship (minus the threat of nuclear annihilation). Today, it seems that every fridge maker is touting its own technology to slow waste. GE has its ClimateKeeper2 System. Bosch boasts a VitaFresh technology where sensors let each compartment regulate its own humidity. Liebherr offers a similar function with its BioFresh Technology. But you know what's probably just as useful? Low-tech solutions: fridges with glass doors or more space or French doors that ensure you can see what foods you actually have. My readers consistently say their biggest source of wasted food comes from items getting pushed to the back of the fridge.
Wondering how long a food item stays good? The StillTasty App for iOS has you covered—from "Angel Hair Pasta, cooked" to "Ziti-dry, uncooked." Most useful is the "alert me" function that warns you when certain items in your fridge are approaching the not-so-tasty phase. Or you can stick with the old-fashioned method-create an ‘eat me' shelf in your fridge. StillTasty's site is also helpful and answers life's persistent questions, like: boxers or briefs? Must I refrigerate ketchup?
In addition to being an oxymoron, freezer burn is preventable. Or at least delayable. Keeping the air out of the food you freeze is the key. Vacuum sealers of all stripes will do the trick here, but Food Saver has the most tech-ish looking versions. These stationary vacuum sealers have the look and feel of a laser printer. By comparison, using Reynolds' Handi-Vac is reminiscent of the dot matrix printer experience. And don't underestimate the power of a sharpie here: Label your bags with the name of the food and the date. Make sure you include the year, Mr. Dewey.
Ethyl alcohol = pure alcohol = grain alcohol, which has its undergraduate uses. But ethylene—the gas emitted by many fruits and vegetables as they ripens—speeds produce's decay. So enclosing ethylene in supermarket plastic bags is often counterproductive. Infomercials to the rescue? Evert-Fresh Green Bags claim to make fresh food last 3 to 10 times longer and Debbie Meyer boasts a 30-day life for some products stored in her Green Bags. But word on the internet is mixed about whether or not the bags are a total FAIL.
Your parents told you to ‘clean your plate because there are people starving in [some country].' Some of us might have stormed out in a fit of teenage rebellion, giving our blessings to mail their left-over dinner to the less fortunate. Nobody has quite figured out how to do that yet, but you can donate the excess from your backyard fruit tree or garden thanks to Ample Harvest. The site allows those with homegrown abundance (or even that traditional donation canned goods) to find local food banks nearby.
Supermarkets are, like, designed to make you buy too much, which essentially guarantees you'll waste food. Epicurious' iPhone App helps you avoid that fate. Choose one of the 25,000 recipes, and create grocery lists from the required ingredients—so you you buy only what you'll actually eat. Resisting that six pack of store-baked donuts is on you, though. The app also helps you find another recipe to use up the rest of that rosemary or rutabaga.
The world can be a rough place. Your fruit needs defending—like a football helmet protects the brain. OK, bad example. But when the stakes are slightly lower, such as the number of dents in your banana, the Banana Guard is a vital addition to Western Civilization (and something sure to puzzle post-apocalyptic archeologists). Fortunately (for us and the archeologists), the same company now offers non-phallic fruit protection. And in the knit category, there's a whole line of fruit sweaters, including Apple Jackets and the pun-free Pear Jackets. If you end up with bruised product despite all your fruit-babying, one gadget can salvage that fruit—a juicer.
Even when you're super vigilant, some food will still go bad before it's consumed. And then there's the inevitable peels and scraps. For many of us, that means composting these remains. But for apartment dwellers and city slickers with no outdoor space, there's the uber-nerdy Nature Mill. The machine composts continually, emits surprisingly minimal odors and looks just like an old desktop PC. What you do with your newly made fertilizer is another question...
The Europeans are really good at reducing waste. Hopefully, as with The Office, Survivor and that Idol show, we'll see imported versions soon. One German supermarket uses RFID tags to stay on top of when meat has reached its expiration, hustling it off the shelves so you don't end up with expiring or expired foods. But for shelf-stable foods, the expiration date is often meaningless. Enter Britain's Approved Food and Drink, which sells these cast away, but perfectly good items on its site. And the UK company Kitchen Waste Bags makes an app that tallies the cost of the food we've wasted, hopefully providing a bit of incentive to avoid future occurrences.
Jonathan Bloom runs the blog Wasted Food and tweets as @WastedFood. His book on the topic, American Wasteland, comes out October 12. Bloom lives in Durham, N.C., where he's been known to enjoy a barbecue sandwich or three.
Original art by guest artist Chris McVeigh (AKA powerpig). You can catch all his work at flickr.com/powerpig, and follow him on Twitter. (@Actionfigured) Original minifigure image provided by Lego.