Uneaten food and where it often ends up at the end of its life (landfill), offers room for improvement for most of us two-legged creatures. The animal and plant kingdoms don't leave leftovers. In the "Reduce-Reuse-Recycle" trash continuum, Reduce with a capital "R" reigns queen. Past articles have focused on the highest and best uses for non-organic materials. The next two articles will explore ways to reduce or eliminate food in the spirit of "loving food and hating waste."
When it comes to stuff we are done with, I am reminded of the saying "it's only trash if that's how we treat it." I hope to provide some alternative ideas on how to avoid making food into waste. Avoidance works really well when it comes to preventing waste. There are many instances in life where avoidance can keep us safer.
For example, when we manage to avoid accidents by paying attention and not bonking our head or stepping out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. Avoidance is not the best choice when the topic is building relationships, unless it is with someone unimportant in our lives. If the relationship matters, then hiding in the sand would not help. That was a long-winded way to say that using good judgement and being flexible is usually a good skill set to keep sharpened. Today's article is about "avoiding wasting food," so if you were looking for tips on facing challenges in relationships, stop reading.
The lifestyle of filling a trash can each week is NOT a requirement to live a good life. Part of the human condition requires constant eating and drinking to thrive and survive. When we don't pay attention to our food supply, it may run out or runneth over (by stockpiling more than we can consume before it is no longer edible). When we dish up too much food, where does that food end up? If you say trash or composting, I challenge you to look upstream at your habits and consider modifying your buying, cooking, portion size, or serving styles to reduce waste and expense.
Did you know that one third of the world's food is not eaten? This is food that could be eaten, but for various reasons one third of all the food produced never reaches a hungry mouth. I consider that a staggering figure. For example, in developing nations lack of storage, road conditions and limited access to refrigeration (electricity) are the main culprits. In the U.S. we do a slightly better job using technology to make food last longer, but that slight advantage is lost later down the food chain as it gets closer to the consumer.
Retailers and consumers who sell, serve, prepare and store food that eventually rots or is tossed before the expiration date is where our coliseum-sized rooms for improvement reside. Another culprit is the squeamishness in the U.S. to eat imperfectly shaped fruits and vegetables. Retailers make some of those choices favoring perfect produce and often the consumer demands it. There are great opportunities to salvage "ugly" fruit and vegetables and fill hungry bellies. It is boggling to imagine all the energy it takes to propagate produce. The environmental requirements of water, petroleum, pesticides, organic fertilizer, machinery and human labor is not a drop in the bucket, especially given the reality that one third of it never reaches the intended customer.
You have some options when faced with an abundance of food. Buy less, freeze and can more, have a dinner party, contact one of our local community resources. In Ashland, Uncle Food's Diner, Food Angels and Ashland Emergency Food Bank can help. If you have a bumper crop this year or extra food you have grown, consider contacting NeighborhoodHarvest.com.
By being willing to makes some small changes, it is possible to reduce the amount of uneaten food your household currently generates. Next time we will explore composting resources that currently exist and one that could happen in the future, with your support. As Mahatma Ghandi said, "When the people lead, the leaders will eventually follow."
If you would like to read more on this topic, check out the March 2016 article in National Geographic written by Elizabeth Royte.
—Risa Buck has served on the Ashland Conservation Commission and in waste prevention education for more than a decade. You may reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org. Find past WasteNot columns online at bit.ly/rbwastenot.