Making smart food choices this holiday: and no we’re not talking about your waistline, but food waste.

Once again, the holiday season is slowly creeping up on us around the world. It’s the time of year for celebrations of culture, family and friends. At the heart of this season is food. It’s universal. It’s how people show love. It transcends borders, languages and religions – tying people and places together in comfort and tradition.

In many wealthier nations, this is also known as the season of gluttonous waste and expanded waistlines. We’re all too familiar with the months long marathon of excess cookies, cakes, holiday parties, platters, food gift baskets and huge meals with extravagant and sometimes unseasonal ingredients – and of course all the leftovers that get thrown away.

Yet, how many of us really stop to look around at our food system in the midst of our holiday indulgences? Have you looked past the holiday traditions and all the pomp and circumstance to ask, where is this food coming from? How much is really consumed and how much is wasted? Are we abusing our food sources in the name of tradition and culture? And what is the environmental footprint of all the excess food packaging and shipping across wide distances in the name of the holidays?

I can’t help but wonder, is there a more environmentally sound and equitable way to spend our food capital during the holiday season?

Between now and the beginning of 2015, more food will likely be wasted than at any other point in the year. While the players in the sustainable food and agricultural movement are rightly focused on how we can better utilize resources to increase food production, what often gets little airplay is how much food is currently being wasted.  Food waste is a critical link to helping solve the eroded connections between sustainable food systems and environmental and climate policy, as well as poverty.

We need to think about doing more with the food resources that we already have. This is necessary if we’re truly going to focus on building a sustainable and environmentally sound food system that is economically efficient, while reducing the impacts of climate change.

According to a World Resources Institute (WRI) analysis “about 24 percent of all the calories produced for human consumption don’t actually end up reaching human mouths….this happens throughout the value chain, from farm to fork, and in all parts of the world.”  This means that the food waste issue is not only on the consumption side, but also on the production end.

WRI experts say that “this big inefficiency suggests a big opportunity, however.  The world will need to produce about 69 percent more calories in 2050 than it did in 2006 to feed a projected 9.6 billion people. Cutting current rates of food loss and waste in half would close this calorie gap by roughly 20 percent. That’s one-fifth of the way there without producing any new food!”

So as you join in that office party or sit down with your loved ones for an intimate meal, think about how you can help reduce food waste with a few simple, sensible steps. Ordering and buying less. Eating what you purchase and prepare. Donating excess food. Buying local food gifts and products with minimal packaging and shipping. Supporting farmers and producers who employ environmentally efficient farming and production practices. And lastly, supporting organizations (either financially or politically) who are working on these issues, on your behalf, in places far from your table. The biggest question you can ask this holiday season is, what are you willing to do?

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