Hey, are you going to eat that?

I stepped out into a cold winter Charlottesville day to start my journey to the grocery store. We decided we’d do a Cajun Red Beans and Rice for dinner, minus the sausage for me, and I needed some supplies. As my car creeps down the hill in my apartment complex parking lot toward Stadium Rd. I hear the woman on the NPR radio channel say “around 40% of food in the U.S. is wasted.” She went on to express, based on this figure, that over the course of a month, in small tid bits here and there, each individual wastes approximately 20lbs of food in the U.S. One month.

I continued to listen as I drove down Emmet St. toward the Barracks Rd Shopping Center. Large scale food waste isn’t something that I was totally unaware of, but I was enthralled by the program and guest experts’ data and opinions. I sat outside Rebbecca’s Natural Food store in my car and continued to listen until the show break. My mind was racing as the smell of incense wafted over me when I entered the store and headed toward the bulk section to get my beans.

It smells ok

Wasting food is one of my biggest pet peeves and something I loathe doing. I strive my best to eat every last bit of leftovers in my fridge, some items pushing more than a week old. If it smells okay, its fine by me, and this judgement hasn’t proved me wrong so far. Just today I used the other half of a probably two week old onion in my fridge for my beans and rice.

I watched a documentary a while back about a guy who essentially lives off of America’s food waste in a somewhat-not-so-sanitary-way. He digs around in the dumpster behind Whole Foods and other grocery stores to retrieve items that have been thrown out. It’s actually a really interesting film.

By the way, did you know that you can tell if eggs are still good by putting one in a bowl of cold water?

Don't be fooled

Those sell by/use by dates are a scam. The dates are created by private firms, not regulated by the FDA and there is a HUGE misconception about whether or not you can still eat food that’s past the date. During the NPR show, Elise Golan, director of sustainable development for the USDA, mentioned that 9 out of 10 people throw food out strictly based on the date. Grocery stores waste millions of pounds of food each year based on this same principal.

Don’t fall into this trap. Save YOUR money, and food because more than likely the food is still good and perfectly safe to eat!

Doesn't have to look good to taste good

Image taken from Tristam Stuart's TED talk.

What I was really shocked to find out was how far up the supply chain this massive amount of waste goes. Many farmers waste hundreds of thousands of pounds of food simply because it doesn’t look “pretty.” Potatoes because they aren’t the right shape or size, bananas because they’re too green, spinach because there are small amounts of grass growing with it. Our obsession with “perfection and beauty” costs the farmers a pretty penny and contributes to the global “food squeeze” that causes so many to go hungry. Who cares what it looks like? The nutritional value is the same and your septic tank doesn’t know the difference.

The biggest issue with all this waste is that it exposes the insane injustice caused by monetary inequality in our world. One million people go hungry each year, but “developed” countries produce four times the amount of food necessary to feed its citizens with 40% of that going to waste. What the hell?

Not only that, but the energy required to produce this food, and again almost half is ultimately wasted, results in deforestation, reduction in precious water reserves, and contributes to our ever more deadly problem of climate change. We are nearing the “ecological limit that our planet can bare.” Something’s gotta give.

So what’s it going to take?

Hopefully, increased awareness and a change in attitudes and behavior combined with technological advances will induce a shift in our so called “developed” culture. Tristam Stuart has been working to spread this awareness. His Feeding the 5000 events demonstrate that “it’s still good,” by taking food that would normally go to waste and making delicious meals to feed thousands.

In reality it starts with you and me, though. First, we’ve got to give a damn. Eat all your left-overs. Don’t buy more food than you really need and then let it go to waste. Eat food after the sell by date, it’s still good!  Second, we’ve got to let others (including our governments, corporations, farmers, and markets) know that food waste on such a massive scale is socially unacceptable.

Be the social pressure

I don’t think our wastefulness is intentional or malicious. I think it simply comes from habit and the fact that there isn’t much social pressure to change our attitudes and cultural norms. I believe it’s time for that to change. Hunger will become more prevalent as the world population continues to grow. Take the Small Act of sharing this message with someone, call someone out if they waste food, eat your leftovers instead of going out to eat, visit the Feedbackglobal.org site and join the movement and pledge to reduce your food waste.