It’s hard to absorb the amount of food that goes to waste in the world every year. One third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. One third! The most commonly wasted food? Fruit and vegetables. That part probably doesn’t surprise you. I know I’ve found my fair share of fuzzy strawberries in the back of the fridge.
This isn’t just a matter of principle, this is money out of your pockets. A big aspect of self-sufficiency is having the foresight to fix the little problems before they become big problems. For someone growing their own food, throwing it away means not only is the food wasted, but the time and money invested is as well.
So, what can we do about it? The easiest thing is to simply be more intentional with how you store your food. If you have a certain food that has a history of going to waste, I highly recommend researching how you may be able to store it more effectively. One of the fruits that gets away from me too often are bananas. Some foods do well stored together, but bananas are not one of them. They simply last longer if they’re kept separate from other fruits. If you want to get into the science of it I’ve included a link at the bottom that explains why on a more chemical level. So, if you have a problem with bananas going bad on you too, you must fight the urge to include them in a fruit bowl methodically organized to look carefree and rustic.
But is that enough? If you’re growing a significant portion of your own food, you’ll be interested in making it last months, not weeks. Especially going into the winter where you’ll be able to grow less or nothing at all. Vacuum sealing is a somewhat cost effective option. It only requires the machine itself and the special bags. Then the food will be placed in the bags and the machine will seal the bag after sucking all the air out. This process has more of an impact when the food is going to be frozen, which can then last 2-3 years. It will assist in a longer lifespan in the refrigerator as well, but not much more so than other air tight storage would. Personally, I don’t have a lot of freezer space, so this would not be the most beneficial option in my case.
Looking at a slightly bigger investment with some learning curve attached is canning. Through heat and pressure you are able to seal your jars in order to preserve the food inside. How long will canned food last? There is some debate on this, but my mother always taught me to look for the veins of truth in different opinions. Based off of that it would seem your produce would last optimally for at least a year. It may still be edible after that, but the nutritional value will continue to decrease as more time passes. This does require more materials: mason jars (including lids and rims), water bath canner (a big pot with a lid and rack that goes inside) or a pressure cooker, and a jar lifter (name seems self explanatory). I will be canning food this summer, so I will be going into more detail on this subject in the future.
Something common among homesteaders is the use of a root cellar. This is basically a room or controlled space that allows for optimal conditions for food preservation. Important things needed for the space are darkness, humidity, and ventilation. Many root cellars are underground in a basement or under a porch. These work better in naturally cool climates, but they can be made to work in warmer areas as well. There’s an important balance that needs to be maintained between humidity and temperature for the root cellar to work optimally. But if it is working optimally, many fruits and vegetables will last several months.
In researching for this post, the biggest lesson I took away from this is that you have to care. It’s really easy to shrug your shoulders when you throw away food past it’s prime, but never change the patterns of behavior that leads to such waste. We live in an age where everything is disposable and it’s easy not to think twice about it. I urge you to start thinking about it and to care because it really does affect you and it really does affect the world.
How ethylene affects fruit- https://extension.umaine.edu/fruit/harvest-and-storage-of-tree-fruits/the-role-of-ethylene-in-fruit-ripening/
Science of canning- https://pantryparatus.com/articles/why-does-canning-jar-lid-seal/
Why you should care- http://thepurposebusiness.com/food-waste-why-should-we-care/