As we enter the festive holiday feasting that we all partake in this time of year, no matter what we believe or where we’re from, I want to take a moment to consider our American ways of feasting in general.

I helped out on Scrape Your Plate Day a few weeks ago in the dining halls on campus, and we just got some disturbing results back from that illustrious day.

I’d think that given our banners, signs and gentle reminders to students and faculty entering the dining halls, the amount of food people wasted might be lower on Scrape Your Plate Day. After all, ’tis better to return for seconds than to take too much and waste it.

But alas, on that particular day, we discovered that the diners in the dining halls wasted more than half a pound of food per person, per day — not including breakfast. Really. That totaled 1,803.6 pounds of food being prepared and tossed.

Yes, it was all composted — but still, the energy and resources it took to grow, prepare, bag and re-process that food are much higher than they would have been to grow… compost.

And resources aren’t something we have to spare these days. Think economics, inflation and your environment, of course.

So when preparing your feasts this season, please consider a few things:

Locally produced potatoes, squash, pumpkins, onions, apples, pears, plums, carrots, cabbage and cider are all still available! Take the time to find them, and they will taste better for not being bundled and escorted 1,000-plus miles (or more) to you.

And when making a celebratory feast, shop for locally produced brands of bread, dairy, eggs, meat, trout, jam, hummus, chips and dips, and a personal favorite — chocolate.

Again, they will be fresher, less processed (for endurance), and you’ll be supporting your local economy — sustainably. Stock your holiday bar (if you are of age) with Colorado wines, beers and even spirits.

With the end of our growing season, consider buying produce from relatively nearby places such as California. That’s exponentially better than buying produce from South America, New Zealand or anywhere else you wouldn’t consider visiting on a weekend road trip. Learn what is seasonal and shop the season.

If you find yourself balking at the cost of organics and regionals, and think of them as a luxury, consider that Americans spend the lowest percentage of our income/budget on food of any country in the world.

According to our very own USDA, we spend on average of 9.726 percent of our budgets on groceries. Compared to Greece’s 21 percent or Spain and France’s 15.3 percent, it would seem we have our priorities out of whack.

Maybe there’s a connection between that fact and our 33 percent obesity rates, recent projections from Harvard University that we will hit 42 percent by 2050, and our current 8 percent diabetes rates.

Investing more on good food might cramp your clothing, dining out or entertainment budget, but, hey, we should be so lucky! It will give you a reason to be creative and it’s worth it to your health and the environment to buy fresh, local produce sans top-soil destroying pesticides.

If you really can’t give up that daily $5 latte or microbrew habit, try to use the same grocery budget in different ways:

1. Practice portion control — don’t buy more than you need for a few days at any one time. Shop more often, and waste less money and resources on food you don’t need.

2. Cut back on processed foods and snacks. They are often more expensive, and if they aren’t, they are likely unhealthy. Cooking yourself is cheaper and doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming.

3. Eat your leftovers! Before you grab the chips (see above), stake out that fridge for Tuesday’s dinner scraps — don’t wait to find them when they have morphed into something else! I actually prefer to make extra so I’ve cooked once, eaten twice.

Chips are for sad weekends in January when fresh produce is limited to southern citrus, and you’ve already eaten your requisite three grapefruits for the day.

4. Buy in bulk and save money on everything from cereal to nuts, dried fruit, grains and party mixes.

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And remember — take only what you need. Love food, hate waste!

Katherine Doan is the communications coordinator for the CU Environmental Center. E-mail comments or ideas to

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