Eat the Food and Food Waste

Sharon January 23rd, 2012

Thank you all for all the enthusiasm for bringing back the Independence Days Challenge - I’ll put up the details and new parameters for the start of February.  There’s been some good discussion of the merits of an “eat the food” category  and whether it was necessary - that’s a good and reasonable question, but recent news events happened to remind me why I want to put it in there.

We are back up to 1 billionish hungry people in the world, and 1/3 of all food goes to waste worldwide.  Now I’d like to say that none of it went to waste in my house - after all, I’ve been writing about food waste and food security issues for years, and I really have tried hard to ensure that everything gets eaten here.  It does - by someone.  But the best use of my lentil-kale soup is really feeding the people in my house, not the chickens, and embarassingly often, some human food gets fed to dogs, cats, rabbits or goats.

A summit of farmers and food policy experts in Germany makes the stakes clear:

Consumers in rich countries dispose of 220 million metric tons of food waste every year, equal to the entire food output of sub-Saharan Africa, Jose Graziano da Silva, the director general of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, told 64 agriculture ministers meeting in Berlin over the weekend.

“We must change our way of thinking, we must have more education, we must have discussion about best-before dates,” German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said. “Every food item thrown away is wasted.”

One third of the food produced in the world every year is lost or wasted, amounting to 1.3 billion metric tons, according to Graziano da Silva. As many as 925 million people faced hunger worldwide in 2010, based on the FAO’s most recent estimate.

In rich nations in the global north, the majority of food is lost not in the fields, but somewhere after it begins the process of getting to your table - in shipping, processing, at the store and in our homes.  In the global south most food is lost in the fields, due to lack of adequate capacity to process it.  Food loss in the global south could be reduced by very small increases in available resources - large scale dryer to dry grain crops damaged by moisture, dehydrators and collective refrigeration.  In the north, most of the food loss is *ENABLED* by our fossil energies - it gets freezer burned and tossed in the deep freeze, it gets damaged by fluctuating temperatures during long haul trucking, it isn’t pretty enough to sit out under flourescent lights or it turns green the fridge.  We use vastly more energy in our food system, waste similar amounts of food, but only after we pour fossil energies into it.

What does this have to do with the “eat the food” category of the Independence Days challenge?  Someone once observed to me that they found it harder to eat the kale, or get the green beans before they got overripe, or make sure they cooked with the organic vegetables they were buying at the farmer’s market than they did shopping or growing them, and I don’t think this is a unique experience.  Ultimately, the problem of managing the food in our pantries and our gardens and everywhere else is a task that requires an attention that most of us haven’t given in the same way that we may have given our attention to the learning curve of actually starting seeds or cooking.  We don’t want to waste, we don’t intend to waste, but the art of making full and good use of everything is one that we have not treated as requiring the same attention and thought as the rest of the food project.  There will never be a fully waste-less society, and indeed, our livestock are grateful for a little extra - but a little is what they need.

One of m goals for re-starting the Independence Days project, then, is to be more artful in my use of food, taking full enjoyment from what we have and ensuring we don’t over buy, don’t miss the windows of opportunity for enjoyment, and that we make good meals from what we have - all of it, whenever possible


11 Responses to “Eat the Food and Food Waste”

  1. Nicole says:

    I have the same experience — what I grow gets eaten much more often, not only because I care about it more, but also because there is a larger window of time in which to decide I feel like eating turnips or squash before they get squishy.

  2. Adrienne says:

    Judging by every conversation I’ve ever had about food waste, I am some sort of non-food wasting genius. I don’t really get it though- keep an eye on what’s going to go bad next, and eat it before it does. If you don’t want to eat it right away, put it in the freezer. (or otherwise preserve it, depending what it is and if you have a dehydrator or whatnot.) Why is this hard? (Nevermind the whole issue of people who don’t like to eat leftovers, ever.)

    Food costs money regardless of if I grew it, bought it at farmer’s market or the regular grocery; I don’t want to throw it out!

  3. Claire says:

    What I find hardest is ensuring that guests don’t waste the food I serve them. I can eat my 5 year old neighbor’s uneaten food on the plate and do, but not so much for adult guests ;-) . Also, I need to better watch cooking when friends are cooking with me. Too many noodles got stuck to the bottom of the pot during the last dinner party.

  4. Frogdancer says:

    I’ve already begun! No time like the present..

  5. Mary says:

    I started doing a weekly inventory of perishable foods and a monthly inventory of dried and other long term stores (pumpkin). I though inventory would show what to buy. Instead, it tells me what to eat. I don’t need to buy oatmeal, I need to cook the oat groats I bought three years ago. Inventory also tells me what I need to find good recipes for, and whether we’re eating my canned tomatoes so they’ll run out in June.

  6. Tom Gibbs says:

    This is a very good concern.

  7. Mitty says:

    This is an ongoing challenge for me, and I appreciate your focusing attention on it.

  8. Elisheva says:

    Tell this to my children ;) A little too much of my lentil soup went out to the chickens this morning. I did, however, scavenge the house for the day’s half-eaten apples and am turning them into crockpot apple cobbler for breakfast…victory!

  9. jan says:

    Yes…this is a real problem! I am struggling with cooking only enough for two retired people so that we don’t have to eat the same casserole morning, noon and night for several days. (Not that husband ever complains!) And also keeping track of the leftovers that have been put in the freezer so they are rotated into our eating scheme. Sensitive stomachs and diminished appetites and just plain lack of energy all seem to be a hindrance to using it all up and having no waste.
    However I have finally realized that I need only can pints of spaghetti sauce …not quarts!

  10. karrie says:

    While I appreciate and generally agree that humans tend to waste too much food, I personally think it makes more sense to feed my dog primarily the same things my son and I eat, rather than to rely soley on purchasing large bags of commercial dog food.

    We’re a household of 3-son, mother and self-and while we’re doing a pretty decent job in terms of reducing waste, my mom especially is used to cooking for a crowd, and tends to cook as though she is feeding a dozen hungry people. I will eat the leftover soup or rice dish 3x a day, freeze what remains and eat it again 3x a day the next week, but my mom and son will not.At least not yet. Babysteps…. My dog, OTOH, will and does literally eat ANYTHING (onions, chocolate, etc. aside, of course).

    Leftover bite of scrambled local egg from my son’s plate? Half a piece of local smoked bacon? The last quarter of a green organic pepper? Why is it virtuous to save these remnants for another pot of homemade soup, or to compost (some of) them, but theoretically shameful and wasteful to share this healthy food with an animal I love? I have to feed my dog anyway, right? Why are you embarassed that you’re doing the same thing at times with your animals? The food isn’t going to rot in a garbage bag in a landfill, right? It is still being used to a good end, IMO.

    I know we could argue that keeping any animal solely as a pet while people are starving IS probably it’s own form of waste on some level, but I’m thankfully not that cranky yet. :-)

  11. MumDoris says:

    On pets as helpful consumers of leftovers: I’m generally a ‘lurker’ on this blog on the grounds that working 2 jobs and trying to get a greedy bank out of my life is taking up all my time so I’m just dreaming about self sufficiency so far. I always read the comments - it’s not just your amazing self, Sharon, that brings us lurkers here but the whole community which uses your blog as a space to gather. But now and again something jumps out and I feel I have to comment. This time it’s Karrie, ‘I know we could argue that keeping any animal solely as a pet while people are starving IS probably it’s own form of waste on some level.’ I would like to propose that a pet dog is worth its weight in food / scraps / walks / hugs / saving in medication we’d otherwise need. I took in 2 puppies due to be ‘put to sleep’ at a terrible time in our lives when my then 5-year old was repeatedly trying to take his own life. You would think adding the mayhem of energetic Spaniel/Collie/X puppies to a chaotic household with a single parent who worked all day was beyond crazy-mad but they literally saved his life. In spite of hair-raising adventures they lived to be 15 years old and died in his arms a week apart of old age. My adult daughter, who hadn’t lived with us full time in years, missed them so much she acquired a giant Alaskan Malamute puppy. She became homeless when the puppy was 6 months old, moved in with her MIL and sent the puppy (and 6 cats) to me; she has just taken back the 1 year old, human sized puppy . Yes, I have a heck of a lot of dirt to remove from my carpets (do not have carpets if you intend getting a human-sized puppy!), reorganising of things hastily shoved away when I heard the animals would arrive in 2 hours and repair of things that should have been but weren’t, but she filled our lives with joy and hugs and made us go out and exercise and keep trying at a time when we might reasonably have sunk into misery and allowed the bad bank to reposses our home. We found the energy to fight back and so far we are still in our home and able to keep caring for 2 step children. We did sometimes have to feed the puppy rice and a can of fish when daughter was a day or 2 late and we ran out of her food - there is no slack in my budget - but I don’t think we’ll suffer long term from using up a bit of our stored food.
    I won’t deliberately get another dog until we are rid of the bad bank and stably housed, but I think over the years the dogs have been an essential part of our survival, emotionally if not physically. And like Karrie, I got used to preparing enough food for whichever extended household members happened to arrive for supper today and will have to get back out of the habit now we have no dog to eat up leftovers. Sometimes saying ‘yes’ to a request for help when others say ‘that’s ridiculous, you can’t’ works out so much better than they could ever imagine.

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