In the U.S., consumers waste more food in homes than any sector of the food supply chain each year. From making better use of leftovers to learning how to minimize spoilage by properly storing perishable foods, consumers have a direct hand in reducing residential waste. Despite the attention this issue has received over the last decade, there is still considerable effort needed to increase consumer awareness about the impacts of food waste, and how consumers can make meaningful changes. ReFED’s Roadmap to 2030 indicates that ‘Reshaping Consumer Environments’ is a key action area to halving food waste. Our guest author, Rachael Jackson from EatOrToss, shares more on how her consumer education website is tackling this.
Say you’re preparing dinner, and one of your ingredients doesn’t look quite right. Maybe your sweet potato is sprouting. Or your apples have odd spots. Perhaps your avocado is a festival of little brown dots.
You don’t want to waste the food. But you also don’t want to make your family sick.
This, I hope, is where EatOrToss.com comes in.
Visit the site and you’ll hopefully find an image to compare with what you’re seeing in your kitchen. Next you’ll see an easy-to-read, well-researched article on the science of what’s going on and guidance about whether to, well, eat or toss. Using my skills as a journalist, I launched EatOrToss in 2016 to take the “doubt” out of that nagging phrase, “when in doubt, throw it out.”
Education at the moment consumers might waste food
As ReFED has reported, more food waste occurs in homes than at the retail, manufacturing, food service or farm levels. ReFED has also found that prevention of food waste “creates three times the societal Net Economic Value of recycling and recovery combined.” Further, consumer education stands alongside standardizing date labeling as the two most cost-effective prevention solutions.
Every week, thousands of people visit EatOrToss to get consumer education at a critical time—the moment they are contemplating throwing away food. The site doesn’t lead with messaging about the issue of food waste; rather, the first thing people typically find is an answer to their particular question.
With articles ranging from black specks in eggs to a turnip hosting a worm, EatOrToss reaches an audience beyond those trying to live more sustainably. I believe some readers come to save money. Others to save time. Still others are simply anxious and need some reassurance. And some are just curious about how their food works. After spending time on the site, I hope all of them are wasting less food.
Like reader Tre who wrote: “Really awesome content, says the recovering germaphobe.” Or Rosey, who said: “Happened to find this page while searching for information about dark streaks in mangoes (first time encountering that!). Have to say, the Eat or Toss site is now one of my favorites! Ended up reading through several pages because it's informative and funny!”
Empowering people to waste less by understanding their food better
I launched EatOrToss because I was like Tre and Rosey. Unsure about food safety, hating waste, and generally fascinated by all the strange tricks my food kept playing on me —(Onion, what’s that milky stuff you left on the cutting board? Potato, why did you turn black in the fridge? Avocado, why do you always let me down?). Today EatOrToss features more than 200 posts informed by reviews of authoritative sources and interviews with scientists from the University of Alaska to the University of Florida. Since other sites provide general shelf-life guidance, I typically focus on visual dilemmas, the truly weird, and the science of what happens to foods as they sit in our kitchens. And, let’s be clear – not every dilemma merits an exuberant “Eat!” Some scenarios are pure “tosses” and in some cases, I note that yes, quality might be lower, but the food is still safe.
In every post, I give quick guidance at the top because a person in the thick of dinner prep needs a fast answer. But I follow that with an in-depth explanation because understanding the “why” is empowering, not to mention fun. Many people first find EatOrToss when they’re looking for quick information, but regular readers and social media followers have told me that simply keeping EatOrToss in their feeds gives them periodic reminders to be cognizant of their waste.
While I set out on this adventure with food waste top of mind, EatOrToss also advocates for food safety and celebrates science and curiosity. I believe that if we can understand our food better, we’ll be less likely to to waste it.
The puzzle of being a mission-driven small business
I simply have a blast researching and writing all I can about weird-looking food. As EatOrToss moves into its next phase, I want to supercharge my newsletter and social media accounts, while creating new content that's responsive to queries I haven't covered. I'd also like to work with sponsors, expand my public speaking offerings and do more to keep readers engaged. I am contemplating online courses. Of course, every day, I bump up against the constraints of time and funding. Finding the balance between activities that keep the business viable and those that help me reach the most people can be tough.
This is where I’d love to hear from you, ReFED community! If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll engage with the site, sign up for the newsletter and send photos of your own crazy-looking food. Beyond that, please consider helping expand EatOrToss’s impact by sharing with your networks, considering financial opportunities to fund or sponsor, or collaborating with me in other ways.
A journalist and food waste reduction advocate, Rachael Jackson founded EatOrToss.com to help home cooks assess food at risk of being thrown away. Rachael is on the board of the DC Food Recovery Working Group and has written for publications including NationalGeographic.com and The Washington Post. Rachael’s email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect ReFED's views and opinions.