Posts tagged ‘food waste’

Food wasted, never tasted

I want to share a commentary, a bit of “food for thought” if you will, I recently wrote after reading an article on Minnesota Public Radio regarding the massive amount of food waste in the United States.

The USDA did the math and figured out that all the food we trash in the US is equivalent to 141 trillion calories, or 1,249 calories per capita per day.

That’s interesting, but lets put this in even more perspective. I did a little more math using the recommended daily caloric intake of 2,000 calories for the average person. All that food we throw? It’s enough calories to feed approximately 193 million people, EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR.

The USDA also estimates that in 2012, 14.5% of households were “food insecure.” The USDA defines food-insecure as households that had “difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources.” If you figure that the average household is 2.6 people, that is approximately 116 million Americans who at some point (probably more than once) in the year did not know how they would get enough to eat.

So, here it is, plain and simple. We’ve got 116 million people who go hungry for lack of resources at some point in the year. We are trashing enough food to feed 193 million a day.  Now, you do the math.

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March 4, 2014 at 10:21 pm 1 comment

Ode to compost

I am pretty lucky to be employed at a place that works hard to practice what we preach. This includes a number of things like encouraging biking and busing to work, recycling, supporting a good work-life balance and providing space for a staff garden. As part of our effort to reduce our waste and to produce free compost for the garden, we also collect our food scraps during the warm months (though if I have my way, this will become year round in the near future). One of the challenges with composting is, like recycling, not everyone knows what’s in or out. We’ve struggled with getting folks to remember that yes, you can in fact compost the coffee, filter and all, but no, please do not put in your rotten cheese. And please, PLEASE do not put in fruit or veggie peels with those awful stickers (they are in fact plastic and DO NOT compost)!!

So, last summer I wrote a poem. I was on my bike, riding to work, when I thought that maybe something lyrical or poetic would help, so I started racking my brain for clever bits and phrases which might resonate with those standing confused over the food waste container in the kitchen. I created what I thought was a pretty good poem, which I shared with friends and family, but never had quite enough time to get laminated and posted at work. This year, with spring arriving early, I was determined to get this done before we started the garden. After a bit of revising (I really wanted to include something about those darn stickers), the following is my tribute to compost. I hope you enjoy it.

~

Ode to Compost
Written by Emily

The compost bin here doth stand,
Collecting our food scraps for the land.

In go your peels and apple cores,
Coffee grounds and so much more!

Thumbs up to tea bags and eggshells;
Bits of bread are okay as well.

Things not welcome are sticks and stones,
Meat and cheese and chicken bones.

Worst of all are those plastic fruit stickers –
Please don’t make our gardeners garbage pickers!

This may seem tricky at the start,
Just keep on trying, don’t lose heart!

If you’ve got a question, please do ask,
Making dirt from food waste is our task!

For help in this effort, we thank you now,
We’ll think of you next year when we plow. 

~

You are welcome to use this poem in your own home, office, garden, etc., I only ask that you please give proper authorship attribution, and please do not alter the text.

I would also like to add a few non-food items you are easily able to compost. These include leaves, grass clippings (though these really are better left on your lawn), egg cartons, black and white newspaper, the cardboard tube inside toilet paper or paper towel rolls and paper plates, napkins and cups which do not have large amounts of grease on them. In reality, it is possible to compost meat, cheese, grease, etc., (collectively known as FOG in the compost world, short for “fats, oil and grease), as well as bones, however many municipalities do not allow these items, as they can attract unwanted critters in ways that veggies don’t and have higher potential for being disease or pathogen vectors. Other things to keep out of your backyard bin are compostable plastics (sadly, these will not breakdown in a non-commercial/industrial setting) and pet droppings.

As always, check with your city about the rules for bins and see if they have a discount program for purchasing one. There are also easy ways to build one yourself out of wood and/or wirewhich is also a great opportunity for using salvaged wood from other projects.

Happy composting!

March 30, 2012 at 3:56 pm Leave a comment

Wasted

Alright folks, I need to take a moment to get up on my soapbox, the one with the podium. It’s not about politics or religion. It’s not healthcare, education or immigration. But it is definitely about a part of the American way of life which we cannot continue to ignore. It’s about a habit we’ve grown into as a society that our great-grandparents would have cringed at. It’s not prolific tattoos or baggy jeans. It’s not fast driving or talking on cell phones during dinner.

No, it’s wasting food.

During the two World Wars, wasting food in the United States was high on the list of social sins. In fact, one could say that wasting food was close to treason. Ok, that may be my own historical embellishment, but it is not far off when you consider that the American people were asked to abide by rations on sugar, wheat and meat in order to “save it for the troops,” and to not waste a morsel of what they did take home. Our grandmothers cooked, canned and cured every edible scrap they could get their hands on.

Somehow, over the last six decades, however, we seem to have forgotten that NOT wasting food used to be an act of patriotism in this country, and we now seem to carry an air of entitlement to waste. Whether it is kids in a school cafeteria, professionals in the corporate work place, a family out to dine at a restaurant or you and me at our own kitchen tables, Americans throw away 40% of the food we produce. FORTY percent. For a nation that generally claims we need to increase agricultural yields in order to grow enough to feed the world, we might do better to take an inward look at our wasteful gluttony first. The insanity of it really is mind blowing if you think about it for more than thirty seconds.

Given my wholesale criticism of all of us here, I will sadly acknowledge the three fingers pointing back at me. A few weeks ago, after a crazy month of meetings, dining out and otherwise ignoring our kitchen, I went through our fridge and threw away an embarrassing amount of food. This is not the norm for me these days – I have worked hard to shop for what we need and not in excess. Unfortunately, as a colleague sometimes jokes, that week I had “really expensive compost.” Fortunately, I am able to compost most of our food waste, but it still does not sit any better with my sense of responsibility. A responsibility for caring for the land (that produces our food), the people (who tend and harvest it) and the resources of this planet (extracted to process, package and truck it all)

In May 2011, I participated in an EPA webinar on food waste.  It was definitely not the first time I’d thought about food waste, but author Jonathan Bloom had some excellent commentary, which he shares with folks on the blog Wasted Food and in his book American Wasteland. On the same webinar I learned about an awesome marketing campaign against waste in the UK. Called Love Food Hate Waste, this creative effort uses humorous imagery and blunt facts to remind food lovers that we’ve got to cut our wasteful ways.

Not wanting to be a complete Debbie Downer on this, here are some ideas for reducing food waste – recycled, revamp and regurgitated – from others to me to you:

  • Reconsider bulk. I’m not talking about the bulk bins at your local co-op. I’m talking about the Costco kind of bulk. The kind where you buy a (sometimes ridiculously) large quantity of food – amount uncontrollable by the purchaser – because it seems like a good deal, then end up throwing half of it away because you are unable to consume it all in time. Consider instead finding a smaller volume of those perishables from a more sustainable source. Then pay the producer (probably the same as you would at the Big Box) so they can make a living. And finally, waste none.
  • Shop more frequently, buy less. This is a super hard concept for Americans in particular I think, but it fits in with the first suggestion. We like the shopping carts large enough to haul an SUV worth of groceries, but what we end up taking home largely becomes trash. Doesn’t that seem silly? We pay money for food so we can pay more money to have it hauled away on Tuesdays? Consider buying your fruits, veggies, dairy, meat and other perishables on a more frequent basis and then use them up before heading out again.
  • Remember what’s in your fridge. Alright, this one is a “personal experience” idea. My husband and I were members of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm for several summers and would often get way more food than we could deal with in a week. In addition to not knowing what to do with all of it before the next box came, I also struggled with remembering what the heck was in the drawers and on the shelves in my fridge. Enter magnetic white board. Left over from my days in the college dorm, this went up on the fridge door and I now track everything in the fridge (at least in the summer when we have lots of fresh produce from the garden and farmers markets). I kid you not, if you keep it updated, it will help with reducing waste, as well as meal planning. Not to mention that it will help reduce the energy wasted every time you stand there with the door wide open deciding what to eat.
  • Leftovers – eat ’em or freeze. If you and your family cannot eat leftovers within a few days (or get “leftover fatigue” after a few meals), consider freezing a portion. For example, I love to make soup in the summer when the ingredients are fresh from my garden, but my husband doesn’t like hot soups in the heat. So, I make the soups, put a few portions in the fridge for me and freeze the rest for fall and winter. We use produce in season, reduce waste and have homemade frozen dinners ready in the cold months. Triple win.

So, those are some of my tips for keeping us moving down the path of less food waste. What are your ideas? How will you use 2012 as the year to be a better steward of your food?

January 9, 2012 at 8:30 pm 6 comments


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