Thursday, January 20, 2011

Food Waste, an Introductory Rant

An American family of four's average monthly food waste.  Via The New York Times.

Food waste.  My number one king of kings pet peeve above all others.  I actually don't even know if I have any other ticks, except maybe the anthropomorphizing of diseases in pharmaceutical commercials. 

My most depressing days are when I have to clean out the fridge to make room for beer or something, only to realize that "ugh, I cannot believe I forgot about those jalapeno peppers," or "how DID that half empty can of tomato paste disappear behind the pickles for so long without me noticing?"  Yes, occasionally things slip by me, but I like to think that one of my more remarkable qualities is my constant mental inventory and indefatigable awareness of refrigerator and pantry contents.  I'm certain that this has irritated every single past and present roommate of mine.

I've been a bit riled up about this issue lately since reading reports which state that Americans throw away around 30-40% of all food just at the consumer level.  Not even talking about restaurants or grocery stores which are even more wasteful and profit-driven.

What's the reason for this?  For starters, America produces enough food for everyone to enjoy 3,800 calories per person per day, which is close to twice what we actually need.  Increasing demand begets an increasing supply, and with prices and subsidies being what they are, we can all probably afford to be at least a little picky about what we will and won't consume. 

But putting perfectly good food into the waste stream is a habit that can literally throw away thousands of dollars every year, not to mention the wasted energy expended during production and transportation.  If America just cut its food waste in half it would lessen our total impact to the environment (in reduced emissions, landfill use, soil depletion, pesticides and fertilizers) by 25%.  That statistic just blows me away.

Fortunately it's becoming somewhat trendy these days to rally against wasting food as what I imagine to be part of a throwback to old timey DIY that's making a resurgence with the more hip among us.  Food waste is of course an exclusive problem of the post-industrialized first world, with the UK, Japan, and US being the worst offenders.  Were our great-great-grandparents buying boneless skinless antibiotic enormous chicken breasts in styrofoam packages?  No, animals were raised and slaughtered locally with a great amount of effort so it was only natural that all parts would be put to good use.  This is an attitude which is virtually nonexistent in our society where it's easier to buy in bulk again and again than to stop and think about what's actually needed.  Celebrity chefs in the UK seem to be starting the conversation about increasing waste awareness, though I'm still waiting to see the Food Network jump on board.  With the rising popularity of excess-based shows, I'm not holding my breath.

I would say that my family members are among the original champions of this cause.  Some of my earliest memories involve devouring discolored chocolates or expired chips at my grandparents' house, or setting aside that jug of milk for Dad because it's justthisside of funky for everyone else.  My little sister told me once that her roommates always waited until she wasn't home to clean out the fridge to avoid her glaring consternation; that was a proud proud day.

This family tradition of sorts saves us untold amounts of money, and also challenges our meal planning creativity to use whatever is available without excess trips to the store.  I should also mention that though the USDA would probably frown on some of my methods, my immune system is iron clad and I've never ever had a case of food poisoning.  I don't think that these two points are unrelated.

I could go on and on.  There really are no downsides to minimizing waste, food or otherwise.

1 comment:

  1. I had to clean out my fridge yesterday and was disappointed to have to throw out a pack of chicken, old olives and some stale feta cheese...what a bummer!