02/14/2013 06:17 EST | Updated 04/14/2013 05:12 EDT

Waste Not, Want Not: It's Food Freedom Day

Growing up I remember my mom saying this when I didn't finish my food. And by the sounds of it, others could benefit from remembering this popular idiom as well.

Recently I read that the average American throws away 396 pounds of food each year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. This statistic doesn't surprise me. The amount of good food that I've seen thrown out is sad.

According to a study done by the George Morris Centre in Ontario, in 2009 total Canadian food waste amounted to $27 billion, which equals $774.07 in food dollars wasted per person.

Food loss occurs throughout the entire value chain from the field to our homes and everything in between such as processing, transportation, grocery stores and food service. But the largest amount of waste - 51 per cent - occurs in our homes, according to the George Morris Centre study.

Why do we waste so much food in our homes? There are several contributing factors, one being bulk discounts, which often encourage consumers to buy more than they need and therefore waste more. There's also consumer confusion regarding best before and use by dates on packaging. A use by date means there is a health risk associated with using food after that date whereas the best before date is more about quality - the food may not taste as good after that date but it can still be consumed.

In the case of restaurants I believe one reason for all the waste is large servings. I also feel this is an even bigger problem in the U.S. than Canada. Growing up, my family spent a lot of time traveling in the U.S. and we always commented on how the restaurant food was so cheap and the portions huge compared to Canada. Of course, we all want a good deal, right? But at what expense?

These large portions not only contribute to food waste but also to obesity. When we're served up a huge plate of food we can't win - either we don't eat it all and it goes to waste or we force ourselves to eat it all which packs on the pounds. So what's the solution? Well, for starters, restaurants that are known for serving large portions could reduce the portion size (and perhaps also the price).

Celebrating Food Freedom

Feb. 14 is Food Freedom Day in Canada. This is the calendar date when the average Canadian will have earned enough income to pay his or her grocery bill for the entire year. Without food waste along the entire food value chain, the date for Food Freedom Day would have been Feb. 5 this year.

A rising global population will eventually mean that food waste is not an option. So this Food Freedom Day do your part by choosing to waste less food.

What are your thoughts? Do you think we waste too much food in North America? Do you have any tips for wasting less food? Please comment below.