Filed under: And Justice for All, Food Waste | Tags: biodigesters, BOGO, community gardens, Craigslist, Farm Bill, FIFO, gleaning, global issues, inmate labor, landfills, Livable Communities, local foods, regional food systems, seasonal eating, small sizing, urban gardens, waste disposal
I’ve spent this summer reading “American Wasteland”, a tome by Jonathon Bloom about the reasons so many American children are going hungry. My mother’s admonishments about how I shouldn’t leave food on my plate because of the “starving ‘negra’ children” had an impact on me. I’ve always quietly prided myself for paying my daily dues so that I could be a member of the “clean plate club”. Fast forward 60 years and into our current-day ‘disposable’ society. On one hand our country is blessed to have so much, but the easy availability of everything from food to plastic water bottles has also devalued much of what we have. So much so that a tremendous amount is simply wasted. There’s an old saying, that “Familiarity breeds contempt”. That’s what Mr. Bloom writes about so compellingly. I like my new saying much better: “There is no ‘away’, as in, ‘throw it away‘ “.
Turns out, there is tremendous food waste in this country especially, but also in developed countries all over the world: from farm to table to landfill, every step of the way there is unbelievable waste, with home plate waste being less problematic than my mom led me to believe. I’ve spent much of my adult life patting myself on the back for cleaning my plate, planning and preparing meals based on what I have on hand, then feeding chickens, dogs and soil with the rest. I tend to feel that I have the most control over things that can be handled at the personal level, and that it’s more difficult to control food waste at any other level, but it’s certainly not impossible.
This is where WE come in: I am certain that, just like with any other ‘movement’, this problem of so much food waste can be greatly reduced, as long as there are enough blogs, letters and emails written, enough news reports spread and petitions signed, enough Facebook pages created and enough folks like you and me to care enough to “Do Something!” beyond cleaning our plates every night.
According to Mr. Bloom’s research, the number one source of food waste is right in the fields and orchards, where growth begins and ends. Many issues come into play at that level, from crop price (sometimes it’s not even profitable for a farmer to pay a crew to harvest the crop so it is left to rot in the field), to consumer demand for perfect looking-stunningly perfect looking-fruits and vegetables. Anything less than perfect is discarded, or in a best case scenario is sent to a cannery. 30-50% of each and every crop goes unharvested for that reason alone. Then, when the produce department employee culls out the tomato that’s developed a tiny blemish ( and I do mean tiny) or the pepper that shows a slight wrinkle, it’s tossed. Food rescue groups have surged in larger metro areas, sometimes picking up 1000 lbs of edible, good food a day, from a single grocery chain. CASES of farm fresh vegetables, boxes of fruits, bags and bags of greens and salads, potatoes, carrots and onions are dumped each and every day. That’s just at the store level.
Restaurants and cafes-especially buffets- schools, work place cafeterias, dairies, canneries, convenience stores and bakeries all contribute to food waste because not only do we expect to see fully loaded bins or steam tables 5 minutes before a food retailer closes, the practice of ‘keeping it full’ forces them to throw away prepared foods due to the threat of it going bad faster…
BOGO offers that tempt us to buy more than we can use…
and refrigerators that are too large…
all contribute to this problem. Easy ‘out of sight, out of mind’ disposal methods add to our tendency to waste food. In many parts of Europe, large disposal fees have been imposed, cutting down on waste and prompting the building and use of local digesters that use anaerobic decomposition to break down the waste in an environmentally friendly way, producing enough renewable energy to power small towns or villages.
Why bother with all of this? As part of our transition efforts to re-create our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being, ‘thou shalt not waste anything’ should be our first commandment.
So what can we do at a level that would truly ‘make a difference’? Consider these actions:
* Buying and eating local and regional foods will ensure that they weren’t shipped from across the country or from the other side of the world. Shorter shipping distances means the food is much much fresher when you do buy it.
* Consider growing some of your own food. Trust me, if you’re growing it, you will not let a single thing go to waste! Not a single morsel.
* Start a local gleaning group in your community or join one that’s already established. The practice of gleaning a farmer’s fields was first mentioned in the Bible, making it an especially acceptable practice if you live in the Bible Belt like I do. It also happens that many crops are grown in this belt. Jesus would approve I’m sure.
* Encourage through your buying choices and via letters or personal requests that food manufacturers and retailers offer more items in resealable packaging and smaller quantities (half loafs of bread to better serve smaller households, for example).
* Push for local, or better yet, STATE, landfill food-waste bans would prompt innovation and help us develop environmentally friendly ways to process food waste. You didn’t hear it from me, but I’ve heard our city is poised to begin a commercial food-waste composting facility in the near future, and if landfill operations could no longer undercut them on price, it will help ensure their success.
*If total bans are not in the making, making waste disposal more expensive or charging by the ton would have a ripple effect through the food chain, likely causing a bubble up effect of food conservation from a more conscientious public
* Encourage farmers to donate excess food-form a database or a Craigslist for food in your community
* Use inmate labor to harness already-harvested crops from growers and packers. Thousands of pounds per day are tilled under or discarded because this produce doesn’t meet market specifications
* Bring urban food-bank clients to excess farm food, encouraging self reliance and fostering food appreciation in the process. If transportation is a problem, pair clients with urban or community garden programs.
* Reconsider what foods the government funds-subsidizing commodity crops makes those crops artificially cheap, encouraging waste. Let your elected officials and the USDA know that you want the next Farm Aid bill to be for eaters, not just growers!
* Plan your meals and menus ahead, using what you have on hand before buying more. FIFO is an effective inventory system that retailers use: First In, First Out.
*Get more restaurants to offer smaller portions for smaller prices. A ‘smart sizing’ campaign could even reverse the negative effect of ‘super sizing’.
The future of food is important and implementing regional food systems, with the use of hoop houses to grow warm weather crops year round, along with a return to more seasonal eating would also lessen food waste. “Peaches in the summertime, apples in the fall” the old song goes… don’t let that sage advice go to waste!
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: arugula, barter, fermenting, food waste, gleaning, kvass, Paralytic Ileus, raw milk, rice cooker, Yard Art
I can’t believe it’s already Friday again! I’ve worked hard this week to get some of my fall ‘householding’ chores completed, while taking some time out to just chill after a couple of stressful weeks. I’ve nursed a cold this week too, so I took extra time for rest, relaxation and reflection as well. Living frugally and healthfully allows me to live fully, while using fewer resources and less money. Sweet.
Monday: I’m on a fermentation kick. After 2 weeks in the hospital, many tests, scans, and invasive procedures, Michael’s doctors came to the conclusion that his chemo and surgeries had left him with “Paralytic Ileus”, or simply put, a sleepy colon. In order to ‘wake it up’ he needs to eat probiotics. Read: pricey. His surgeon specifically told me to buy yogurt made with RAW milk, since pasteurization kills a lot of the ‘good bacteria’. Well, raw milk sales are illegal in TN but luckily, I have friends that have bartered jugs of their fresh, raw, goat’s and cow’s milk with me for some of my apple cider and homemade jams. My yogurt maker is working overtime, with delicious results. After doing some research on my own, I learned that yogurt only contains two types of gut-friendly bacteria, while there are several other types of the ‘good guys’ in some of the lesser-known fermented foods. Enter: sauerkraut, pickles, kumbocha tea, kefir, chow-chow and Kvass. What the hell is Kvass? A simple to make fermented drink made from beets…
Since I have a rather large supply of beets this time of year, it was an obvious choice. Peel and chop 2 large or 3 medium organic beets into a half gallon container. Add 2 teaspoons of sea salt, 1/4 cup of whey (from that raw milk), and fill with filtered water. Stir to mix, then cover lightly and keep at room temp for 3 days, then refrigerate. When most of the liquid has been drunk, you may fill up the container with water and keep at room temperature another two days. The resulting brew will be slightly less strong than the first. After the second brew, discard the beets and start again. You may, however, reserve some of the liquid and use this as your inoculant instead of the whey. If you’re a Diet Coke freak you MAY not care for Kvass 😉 If you love beets like I do, this may be your new favorite beverage. It’s full of vitamins and minerals and the fermentation process kicks them into high gear. I drink 4 ozs, twice a day and am feeling renewed, especially after tending a head cold this week. My friend tells me she sautees the leftover beets in butter and they are yummy. I’ll try it when this jar of kvass is gone. If all else fails, the chickens will like the bottom of the jar beets I’m sure.
Tuesday: Speaking of beets…when I planted my fall beet bed, I transplanted the thinnings to a different bed, since I can’t bear to waste anything. They looked awful!
Savings? I saw organic beets for $3.99 a lb this week at the store. If all four of those little thinnings grow to the size of this half pound one, I figure I’ve saved $8.00 on something most folks throw away!
Wednesday: I have some ‘yard art’ that I bought at a junk store before yard art was even cool. About 5 years ago the top sphere broke off, so I took it to a local shop to have it welded back on. That cost me $16 then. But recently, the guy with the backhoe that dug up my bushes for free, accidentally knocked it over and broke it again…
Savings: $10-$15? I don’t know their value since they’re misshapen and different sizes, BUT there’s enough ‘taters here to make many meals in the months to come. Ain’t it a shame the food that’s wasted in this country? Not on my watch!
Friday: Recently, my beloved rice cooker quit working. Just quit, no power! I remember when I first bought it 6 years ago (on sale of course) that I liked it so much I took it on vacation and used it in the kitchen of the condo we stayed in to cook rice with steamed veggies in the top, oatmeal and soup. (Of course the others that were vacationing with us thought me strange…who cares?) For me, it’s a must-have appliance. The day after it quit working I went to a yard sale and there.it.was…
Good food, good health, good friends. That’s all there is folks, and that’s enough. Have a great weekend!