Monday, March 08, 2010

Waste Not, Want Not

I was reading through this spring's issue of OnEarth from the Natural Resource Defense Council over the weekend and came across an environmental topic that rather floored me: food waste.

I know that we (as in Prairiewolf and myself) waste a ridiculous amount of food and I have felt bad about that for years, but I've felt bad in a budgetary sort of way, not in a "what am I doing to the Earth?" sort of way. This article caused an internal shift, though, in how I see this supposedly personal problem of ours.

Some statistics:

The USDA estimates that 30% of all edible food in this country is wasted. Two other recent studies (one from the National Institute of Health and one from the University of Arizona) estimate at least 40% of all edible food is wasted. That's the equivalent of 1400 calories/day/person, or about 2 full meals.

That means that 25% of all freshwater and 4% of all oil consumed in this country is being used to produce food that we simply throw away!

Each year the municipal waste stream in the U.S. contains enough food thrown out by restaurants and homes to feed all of Canada. (And we have starving people in this country?!)

When foood rots, it produces methane, which has 20 times the global warming potency of carbon dioxide. Rotting food, according to the EPA, may be responsible for about 10% of the human-caused methane.

In thinking about all of this, my mind keeps going to a scene in Anne's House of Dreams from the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery. In the scene, Marilla (Anne's stepmother) is looking into Anne's scrap jar to make sure that there's nothing in there that shouldn't be. She's basically grading the new housewife on how well she's doing, because a lack of unnecessarily wasted food was one of the most important signs that a woman knew how to run the house well. When I read this passage, all those years ago, I remember thinking how old-fashioned an idea that was. These statistics, however, make me think that the old fashioned housewives were right. At this point, I'd have to give myself a D for my ability to avoid wasting food (and we simply won't go into my other housekeeping skills at all!).

So I've got a new goal for myself: waste not, want not...and save money and the planet while doing it. Maybe making proper food preparation, use and storage a more "noble" goal will help me put a higher priority on it and thus help me get better about doing it well. As my self-inflicted grade shows, I don't think I could get a lot worse!


qkslvrwolf said...

I think the hardest part is planning. If you're in a situation where you can easily (and with low gas consumption) but your food for each day individually, and you can plan your meals well, you can stay pretty low. Most of my waste comes when I'm trying to buy for several days and never get around to eating it...

Gaia gardener said...

Very true. Salads, for example, are a bugaboo for me. I buy the stuff to make them, then don't for a couple days and end up throwing all of that good stuff into the compost pile.

I had to laugh ruefully at myself. After posting this, Dad and I ate out that night and ended up leaving a bunch of nachos on the plate because it was simply too much for us to eat, but not going to warm up well at home. So, less than 12 hours after posting of my intentions to do better, there I was wasting a massive amount of food again. Sigh.