Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wasted Food

         My daughters and I went strawberry picking the other day. A yearly event for us, my daughters eagerly agree to go and help out. They are at the age now where they are old enough to really help out. We usually pick between 45-50lbs each year. Most of the berries are for freezing, but we also make a large batch of jam. The added bonus this year was my visiting mother who I quickly put to work chopping up berries. With all this help, it wasn't long before I could admire the quart bags full of berries and the many jars of jam adorning my kitchen counter.

         I went picking twice and on the second time, I was saddened to see so many rotting berries. Berries from this farm go to U-pickers and the farm stand, yet there were still so many berries waiting to be picked. Is it that people don't have the time or energy to go pick? Was it a bumper crop this year? All I know is there were way too many unpicked berries. Berries that could have been put to a good use (eating, of course).

        I have been making an even stronger effort not to waste food. My compost bowl is pretty full every day, but that is more from cooking with fresh food than anything else. Berry tops, kale stems and pea pods fill the bowl this time of year. I realize we all have leftovers that get shoved to the back of the fridge and ultimately end up in the compost, but nationwide, our waste of food is despicable.

        I just came across an article The Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet project titled "Reducing Food Waste: Making the Most of our Abundace". According to the article and new statistics from the United Nations, roughly 1/3 (!) of the food produced worldwide for human consumption is lost or wasted. 1/3! That is unreal and hard to believe. What adds an extra punch is in industrialized countries, more than 40% of losses happen due to retailers and customers discarding unwanted but often perfectly edible food. Shouldn't that be a crime?

        We have 1 BILLION people chronically hungry and we are throwing away food because it doesn't look nice? We have families struggling to make ends meet in our own county and food is getting thrown away because it isn't pretty? In developing countries (due to storage, transportation and processing issues), 150 million tons of grains are lost each year. This is six times the amount needed to meet the needs of all the hungry people in the developing world (Worldwatch Institute, 2011). According to this, we currently have the food to feed all 6.7 billion of us. Yet much of this food is ending in landfills and dumpsters and in a place like India, as manure.

         The article also says technology (in industrialized nations) for the prevention of food from spoilage- such as climate-controlled units, drying equipment, transport infrastructure and others -has contributed to fostering our culture in which high levels of food waste is accepted. I do believe it is not only accepted, but encouraged. Our state laws, policies of restuarants and grocers and the search for the perfect apple or tomato lead us into a daily squandering of good food.

The article goes on to state three low cost approaches for addressing this issue. I'll discuss those in the next blog.

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