Do You Waste Food?
How much food do you think you waste each day? A pound? Quarter pound? I’m guessing that you’ve never really thought about it like that. Sometimes we may feel a twinge of guilt for cooking too much pasta or boiled bananas and being unable to finish it. You scrape what’s left in the garbage and groan that you’re full. Or maybe we’ll feel a twinge when we order a meal — feeling o so hungry — and leave a good, tasty portion on the plate but do not bother to ask for a to go box (some social situations don’t allow a to go box, I understand). Or, maybe we actually take what we can’t eat home but then forget about it, only to locate it in the back of the fridge a week later..and you kick yourself because the food tasted so good. But you simply throw it out and move on. After all, you simply forgot.
So, how much food did you waste today? Just how much bigger than your belly are your eyes?
Here’s a range of very large of numbers: 1.2 to 2 BILLION TONNES.
That’s how much food we, people on Earth, waste each year. It accounts for one-third to one-half of all food produced annually.
I have another large number: 1 BILLION.
That’s how many people around the world are hungry (the fancy term is undernourished, and perhaps it’s accurate but I think it obscures the issue: people are hungry). Also, don’t be fooled into thinking that there are only hungry people in “those countries.” Last I checked there were 19 million hungry people in the so-called developed countries, and approximately 58 million hungry people in Latin America and the Caribbean. If you broaden the measure to “food security” then in the U.S. alone that’s 49 million people 16 million of which are children. Hunger and inadequate access to food are everywhere…maybe even next door, no matter how fancy the neighbourhood.
And the global population continues to grow, so much so that the U.N. estimates that by the end of this century there’ll be an additional 3 billion people to feed. On this Earth. We ain’t got nowhere else to go! No terraforming to be done. This rock is all we have. But we currently demonstrate careless management of this single space, that we are mostly incapable of managing our food and food production resources well. OK. Where the hell is Chief O’Brien?
The numbers simply do not add up do they? So many people hungry yet so much food is wasted? How is that possible? Then add to that consideration the growing number of overweight people and your brain just may hurt. How is this possible?
Well, it’s possible because of social and structural problems with the growing and distribution of food — like the massive subsidies given to U.S. farmers to produce certain crops in excess (especially corn) instead of encouraging crop rotation and growing healthy food, or the push toward large-scale agro-business at the expense of family farms and small-scale farmers, all of which affects a country’s ability to feed itself. Think too about how our demand for certain foods affects the supply of those foods elsewhere. Quinoa is a good example: it’s been a staple grain in Bolivia for years and now it’s popular with, for example, us conscious Farrin eaters. We’ve thought about our food and decided on healthier sources, quinoa is a good choice because it’s loaded; it’s nutritionally complete. Our demand is good for Bolivians who grow it (they earn money) but it’s bad for the Bolivians who rely on it as a staple of their diet: quinoa is now too expensive for many. That’s a simplified synopsis of course but it’s still an uncomfortable catch 22, no? Yes the real effects of our demand for quinoa are hard to identify but, still, think about your food and where it comes from, what defects in the global food distribution chain may need to be changed. Think about the social stigma sometimes attached to farmers and farming: they’re backward, couldn’t get any other job, they did poorly in school, “mi nah dig nuh yam hill,” “mi nah get up so early,” “suh wha if dem t’ief some goat?” “OMG, farming? No way, I’m gonna get a real job!” Funny thing is that it takes skill to be a successful farmer. Slapdash farming doesn’t work. Farming requires skills not unlike those one needs to be a successful office worker or non-farm business owner: good at organizing, paying attention to detail, a willingness to take risk, creativity. Farmers must be organized to know when to plant crops and at what time, because of the weather and market prices. Farmers must pay attention to the consistency of the soil, the health of the crops, the the health of the animals — are they wasting away despite having adequate food, are they eating adequate food, what’s the yield for the corn and grass fed to them, which two animals make good, sturdy offspring? Farmers must decide whether to plant at all — there was a drought last year, new equipment will be needed next year, some parts of the farm seem waterlogged, I need to upgrade the irrigation system, the cost of this crop is unstable but the initial costs of growing this other crop are high; is it worth the risk to plant this year?
Funny: so many of us take special care to be seen shopping for food at the right time and in the right place…because, duh, being seen in Whole
Paycheck Foods, Loshusan, Sovereign, or MegaMart matters! But the people responsible for getting the food to the supermarket are…beneath us? We don’t think about how the food we eat gets to our tables? How sensible. (<– this is sarcasm)
But the plain fact is that too many of us are just thoughtless about food. That there are so many hungry people on this here planet on which we waste 30% – 50% of the food we manage to produce from the 1/32 part of the Earth suitable for growing food…this isn’t just a resource issue. This inequity is a moral and ethical issue. Plain and simple. I think it’s one of the most pressing moral and ethical issues of my generation. It’s simply unsustainable for us to continue this way. To address it, we must each change our actions and realign our thoughts.
Think about the produce that we get in the supermarket. Do you realize that we’re often only offered and seek out the “best looking” apples and avocados, bananas and oranges? No bumps and bruises wanted in our kitchens. Well, what happens to the bruised produce we leave behind? Sometimes an organization that prepares meals for those who need it may be able to get it – glean it – before a farmer brings his produce to the supermarket, before this rejected but still edible food is dumped. Sometimes it’s given to animals (e.g. pigs get apples). But most times that food is simply dumped. There’s nothing wrong with this food. Bruised does not mean rotten but we are so caught up with appearances that even bruised food is rejected. And you thought that materialism was only about being seen with the latest gadget or model car, eh? Think about sell by dates: they’re guidance only, not mandatory. The dates are mainly guidance on “peak freshness” or an indication to sellers how long to display product for. I can’t tell you how often I’ve reached for milk, looked at the sell-by date and sighed in annoyance…only to take a moment to sniff and taste the milk and realize that it’s still quite fine. If anything, pay attention to the “use by” date and even then, use some common sense (like check on an egg by putting it in a container of cold water, if it floats toss it…otherwise, nyam it).
It’s really not hard for us to do small things individually that can have a meaningful impact. You know, think globally, act locally. Start by addressing behaviour or activities that are most likely to cause you to waste food, the front end of your individual food use spectrum. Begin by adjusting your portions, both the portions you buy and the portions you cook. To accomplish this it is helpful to plan your meals. No, not a supermarket list alone (and while you’re shopping, don’t be afraid of the “ugly” produce), but actually planning what you’ll eat for at least most of the week and cooking the appropriate portions. You think your granny or even your parents never planned the family’s meals ahead? There may not have been fancy “meal planning Mondays” but rest assured that they did it. Leave room for cravings and the like but planning ahead is important for saving money, time, and food…and it’s healthier for you. If you go out, order what you can eat. Split or forego an appetizer or desert so that you can manage the entrée. There are two corollaries from paying attention to your portions: storing and re-purposing food. Storing food is easy and economical. If produce is on sale but it’s unlikely that you’ll finish all of it before it spoils then buy it and freeze some. Many vegetables can be easily blanched and frozen. Blanch and divide into small portions that are easy to use. Cut up fruit (as necessary), divide into smaller portions, and freeze; this works well with berries, peaches, bananas, mangoes, and pineapples. You can store herbs by freezing them in olive oil: use an ice cube tray so you’ll have easy servings for your next dish. Or just simply store your cooked leftovers properly: label the packages with the contents and the date you cooked it. To remind yourself that it’s there, write a note on the fridge, set a reminder on your phone, or store leftovers in a special section of your fridge. Do something proactive so that your perfectly good food doesn’t end up in the trash. Re-purposing food isn’t that hard either; after you’ve enjoyed baked chicken, use the bones to make chicken stock for soup or stew. That stock can be stored in the freezer until you need it. Left over white rice can become fried rice. The last of the sweet peppers just about to enter spoiled territory are still salvageable if you wash and clean it; great for an omelette. Yucky mushy bananas are great for banana bread or fritters. And if you do cook too much for the week — it happens — make something like a casserole: pasta, veggies, left over meat (or even beans), a sauce (marinara or alfredo, or a creamy soup), and cheese; mix it up and bake. Do as much as you can not to waste food. In other words: Tun yuh han’ an’ mek fashion.
Make these activities habits. Then, maybe you can start attacking food waste at the other end of your food use spectrum by using up the bits of food you don’t cook or store: try composting. Food scraps (things like potato peels, the cleaned up bits of callaloo, orange peels) are perfect for composting. Use the compost for fertilizing your indoor plants, lawn, or a kitchen garden if you have one. Yes, believe it or not fertilizer need not come in a bag or spray bottle from the hardware or gardening store. It’s easy to get started and you can use yard waste (such as leaves or cut grass) too. (If you’re interested in home gardening, check out Yardedge’s posts about home gardening in Jamaica to get a start (so far there is part 1 and part 2)).
So, think about it: 1.2 to 2 billion tonnes of food wasted every year. One billion people hungry, now. The image of hunger is not only that of an emaciated child in Africa, nor is it only the image of desperate war refugees or white-squalled homeless person. The image of hunger really is you; you and I who are the privileged who are living so thoughtlessly and in excess. Can you live with that?