We waste an astonishing amount of food. Conservative estimates suggest that around one-third of everything we produce for human consumption gets lost or thrown away. That equates to around 1.3 billion tonnes every year. In monetary terms, our profligacy is even more extraordinary. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, industrialised economies waste a whopping $680 billion of food every 12 months. In a world where environmental and economic pressures are arguably greater than ever, these statistics are worrying, to say the least.
Knowing how to tackle the issue of food waste can be a tricky problem to get your head around. Some people take small steps to plan meals effectively and ensure that there’s minimal wastage from what they buy. Others go to the extreme and hunt for food that the rest of us have already thrown out. While these are both possible solutions, one man from Maryland has decided to prove that, if we really want to waste less, we all need to start taking sell by dates with a pinch of salt.
Scott Nash, founder of MOM’s Organic Market, has a very particular theory about why we are disposing of one-third of everything we should be eating. According to Nash, it’s our obsession with “sell-by” or “best before” labels that forces us to be extra cautious about what we’re eating. These labels, Nash argues, have nothing to do with safety and often just send arbitrary and confusing mixed-messages.
In an interview with WTOP, Nash revealed, “Some stuff is damaged, and that’s legitimate, and some stuff really does go bad. But a lot, most of the food that gets discarded is due to these arbitrary and confusing dates. They are very vague. What does ‘expire’ mean? There is ‘best by,’ there is ‘sell by,’ ‘best if used by.’ I just think that there is no consistency, and that it is creating confusion.”
Determined to prove his point and make a difference, Nash set himself an extraordinary challenge. On his blog, Scott’s Compost Heap, he decided to document his diet over an entire year, during which he would only eat “expired” food. This would mean eating some seriously wacky foods. As he said later, “I ate some tortillas that were a year past date. Some of the meats I ate were quite a few weeks past date. I ate heavy cream that was a few months past date. I ate yogurt that was seven, eight or nine months past date.” Despite all this, Nash survived to tell the tale.
As unappetising and extreme as the diet may sound, there is strong evidence to suggest that Nash maybe speaking some sense. Several scientists have gone on record over the last few years to underscore the point that many food labels are essentially useless at predicting when a food will be safe to eat. A study published by The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future also revealed that “those who perceived food date labels as reflecting safety or as being federally regulated were especially likely to discard food based on the labels.” Maybe eating things that you might think are past their best really is an easy step we can all take in the fight against food waste.