Sara Orem: Food Waste

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A tremendous amount of food is simply wasted and Sara Orem is determined to do her part to reduce her contribution to the problem.

Most of the time only my spouse and I dine at home. You would never guess this if you looked into my 32 cubic foot refrigerator.

You would find several stir-fry sauces, three kinds of milk and two drawers full of fresh vegetables and fruit. Pushed to the back would be containers of half eaten cottage cheese, several leftovers, and pickles. About once every two weeks, I throw out a third of what’s in there. This makes me typical of the American consumer. Think of carrying three bags of food out of the supermarket and dropping one in the parking lot—but never picking it up.

I’m not proud of this. Recently I’ve begun a project to waste less food as a way of doing my part to effect climate change. Landfills are the third largest source of methane gas in the United States. I began with a fridge reality check. After emptying it of all spoiled items, I checked off the food I’d collected: lettuce with slimy brown leaves, clotted milk and moldy leftovers. Although many food and non-food items can be composted, only the vegetables in this stash qualified. Why had the food gone bad? Mostly because the quantity was greater than two people can eat. Finally, I scraped and filled a paper bag with the food I’d removed from my fridge. There was a lot, almost a full bag.

I am determined to repeat this fridge reality check in a month and find less food for my paper bag. How will I do this? Some by planning meals ahead of time and shopping for only what I need. My goal is half a bag in a month and less the following month. I will have saved money, eaten more of what I cook and achieved a small goal that effects climate change.


With a Perspective, I’m Sara Orem.

Sara Orem has been a professional chef and now teaches at the Osher Lifelong Learning Center at UC Berkeley.