It’s the classic American shopping attitude. Buy ahead and buy in bulk. You get to skip multiple trips to the supermarket, plus bulk buying food saves money, right? No. We toss 30% of it in the trash, so what happens is that the food ends up costing more. That means you’re only getting 70% of the food you paid for, making it a lot more expensive than it seems.
Instead of loading up on groceries weekly or even monthly, we should buy less and more often. In short, we should do what folks still do in Europe, and buy our groceries daily, from local stores.
Victoria Ligon, a researcher at the University of Arizona, said to UA News that “People in this country [the U.S.] are very price sensitive at the grocery store, but tend to overlook the cost of discarded and unused food at home.” And even when we’re told about it, we don’t like it.
“It’s uncomfortable. People don’t want to confront the cost of the products they are throwing away,” Ligon said to the UA News. “It’s sort of embarrassing.”
The problem is that you never know what you’ll be doing a week from now, so how can you plan dinner next week? You might be too tired to cook, so you order pizza. Or maybe you end up at a restaurant with friends, while the food in your refrigerator rots. However it happens, the savings of bulk buying are eaten by waste.
Barcelona, for instance, is a modern city, and people do buy food in supermarkets, but the majority of the action is in fresh-produce markets and local stores. Every neighborhood has a thriving market, surrounded by stores selling fruit, bread, cheese, and everything else. Even if you’re not near a market, the dense city means you’re always near enough to a store to walk to it and buy what you need.
The result: very little food is wasted, because you only buy what you need that day, or for a few days hence. If you’re eating out that night, you don’t visit the market.
The food can be tastier too, especially the fruit and vegetables, because it is often locally-sourced, and picked nearer to ripeness because it doesn’t need to sit in your refrigerator for three weeks and still look good.
Instead of pressuring the planet to grow more food, we should just stop wasting what we already have. “Food distribution remains an issue, but Americans still waste so much food, way too much,” says Anita Bhappu, a UA associate professor who advises and collaborates with Ligon.