Together a family of four pitches 1,656 pounds of food–the amount pictured here in the Food Waste display © AMNH/D. Finnin**
This is a blog about everyday meal making, so you’re likely wondering why an article on world hunger? Because I have met and talked to most of the people on our newsletter list and I know they, like most people, really, have a deep concern for the plight of others. Usually, it feels like there’s nothing we can do about big problems. Happily, however, everyday meal making provides an opportunity to change the world. Three times a day, seven days a week, we have a chance to make food choices that, e.g., lead to less food wasted so more food is available for those in need. This Waste Not, Want Not series hopes to build awareness of these opportunities so we can exercise our power to effect change.
Those who have taken one of our healthy meal making classes will chuckle at the heading for this article. For those who haven’t, I am known for hoarding the bits and scraps from our cooking adventures that most people would toss:
- Are we making a salad with kale leaves? Save the stems for making a soup!
- Is the saute pan covered with the bits and pieces from browning chicken? Deglaze it and save the juices for cooking carrots!
- Broccoli on the menu? Peel the tough stems and boil for a lovely puree!
While I admit to being a (lighthearted, I hope) miser, there is a heartbreakingly serious side to this waste not, want not quirk of mine: Hunger. It is fast increasing, even in our own country, the wealthiest in the world. National Geographic recently profiled what hunger looks like in America:
“[T]he number of people going hungry has grown dramatically in the U.S., increasing to 48 million by 2012–a fivefold jump since the late 1960s, including an increase of 57 percent since the late 1990s. Privately run programs like food pantries and soup kitchens have mushroomed too. In 1980 there were a few hundred emergency food programs across the country; today there are 50,000. Finding food has become a central worry for millions of Americans. One in six reports running out of food at least once a year. In many European countries, by contrast, the number is closer to one in 20.”
AND YET. . . we waste 30% of our food supply! Picture the groceries you buy each week. Now imagine tossing a third of them in the trash can. Wow.
In a previous post, I described the potato blight display at the Global Kitchen exhibit in Denver. In addition to that display the exhibit featured another illustrating our food waste problem.
- In the developing world, it explained, food waste occurs for lack of things like storage, refrigeration, distribution and technology. E.g., there is a big crop of mangoes, but it can’t be refrigerated to spread out the harvest, can’t be widely distributed to more people in need and can’t be dried, canned or otherwise processed for year-round eating.
- In the developed world, on the other hand, food waste occurs just because we are thoughtless and picky. To begin with, each year every man, woman and child in the United States throws out 414 pounds of food at home, in stores and restaurants. But even more food is lost on farms and in processing and transportation. E.g., huge amounts of produce is discarded on farms and at stores simply because it isn’t quite pretty or fresh enough for the American consumer or has a few blemishes.**
Certainly the food industry bears some responsibility for our quick-to-toss mentality. It happily stokes our fears around food contamination: A little wilting on the lettuce–pitch it and go buy more! Asparagus been in the frig for six days–must be bad so go buy more! Apple have a brown spot–get rid of it and go buy more!
Note the “go buy more” theme? It is to the industry’s advantage to take advantage of food safety concerns. Pitching a tomato with a bad spot means you run to the store for a replacement. Ka-ching!
There is no question that food safety is important, but for goodness sake:
- Old does not automatically equal inedible. In asparagus season, it is sometimes 7 or 10 days before I can get to my last bunch and it is absolutely fine.
- Wilted does not automatically equal inedible. Our Monroe Organics CSA lettuce is often wilted after a long day from harvest through delivery and pick up, but as Jacquie Monroe always reminds us, dunk it in a bowl of cold water for a couple hours. Presto it becomes just like new!
- And mold does not automatically signify that an entire produce item has gone bad. In tomato season, have plenty of tomatoes that start to turn, but I cut off all of the bad spot (plus a margin of good tomato) and what’s left is fine.
Many of us were raised in the post WWII, “starving child in China” era. Parents cajoled us to eat our peas because there were “so many starving children in China.” I don’t know whether our parents truly cared about the kids in China or just needed a heavy moral stick to make us eat nasty canned peas. At any rate, it wasn’t long before we wised up to the absurdity of it all. How in the world could eating nasty canned peas in America save some kid in China?
So we proceeded to toss out the kid in China nonsense. But we didn’t stop there. As each ensuing decade brought an ever-increasing abundance of food, we continued pitching, ultimately abandoning centuries-old traditions of gratefully treasuring and carefully husbanding food. In place of those traditions, we giddily created into a cool new credo that took food for granted, gave little respect to the miracle of abundance and thoughtlessly, almost wantonly, wasted.
And now each of us wastes 414 pounds of food a year, while our neighbors go hungry.
Apple and plum sauce made from the abundance of fruit in our Boulder area this year.
So as Food Day approaches, when we can reflect on our food consumption, am I suggesting a return to the starving child in China mentality? Lick my plate clean and starving kids somewhere are magically spared from hunger for a day? That does sound silly, but what if:
- On a tangible level, what if the money saved by not wasting food is directed to hunger organizations (and while food banks are great, I favor organizations that address the root causes of hunger.)
- On a less tangible level, what if each of us, by paying a little more attention to revering and deeply appreciating food, contribute to a shift in the cultural norm. Embarrassing waste is no longer accepted and food is treasured. I’m guessing that kind of culture would more quickly find and effectively implement the solutions that already exist to end hunger.
If you have any more thoughts, please share in the comment box below.
Autumn, the season of harvest abundance, is a perfect time to begin building awareness around food waste and cultivating reverence for the food miracles nature bestows, day after day, season after season.
If you’re ready to take action, there are many ways to avoid food waste.
Filed under: Waste Not-Want Not | Tagged: Causes of Food Waste, Causes of Hunger, Food Day, food waste, Leftover Ideas | 8 Comments »