Skip to main content

WASTE NOT WANT NOT


During my medical residency one of my attending physicians once said to me: "I always try to buy fresh vegetables to make for my kids but more often than not they wind up wilting in the back of the fridge only to be thrown out. I am sorry to say that it's the nonperishable items like macaroni and bread that end up getting eaten."

This is not uncommon, especially for working parents who try to balance busy schedules and housekeeping duties. As they say, haste makes waste.

I thought about this yesterday when my grandmother came over for lunch. My mother made pasta. "Why do you make pasta," I said, "when grandma never eats anything but fruit?" Sure enough my grandmother didn't touch the pasta, although she served herself a healthy portion - I presume for politeness' sake. And this is how social conventions get us into trouble. Why didn't she just stick to the fruit?

In a recent year the Agriculture Department estimated that 133 billion pounds of food was lost at the retail and consumer levels. This is almost a third of the nation's food supply, or over 400 lbs of food per American, with vegetables nearly topping the list of the food groups most likely to wind up in the trash. This is a real problem. As the Wall Street Journal reports, when edible food gets thrown away, significant amounts of energy and chemicals used to grow the food are also wasted. Plus, when food rots in landfills, it produces the harmful greenhouse gas methane, exacerbating global warming.

It gets worse: according to the National Institutes of Health food waste absorbs more than 25% of freshwater consumption. During this California drought, we now know where to point the finger of blame. And what about those starving children in Africa! Or for that matter, America? In 2012 nearly 50 million Americans reported not having enough to eat at certain times of the year.

If I'd have asked my grandmother why she served herself pasta she didn't intend to eat she may have cited courtesy, or perhaps she was unaware. Like so many of life's behaviors, the act of serving the food may have been reflexive. How much of our actions are unconscious! In a recent poll, nearly 75 percent of Americans believed they wasted less food than the average household. This, a mathematical impossibility, prompted one expert to lament: "We have a major problem that we don't even see." But we feel the loss - to the tune of over 150 billion dollars down the drain.

So what leads to consumer waste? Of course there is overbuying and confusion over expiration dates, as well as the good intentions of my attending physician and social graces of my grandmother. And with everything so oversized, from markets (Costco) to SUVs and industrial refrigerators the temptation is to buy more than is necessary and then waste what is unused. Expiration dates are a problem as well, as they mislead customers into throwing food away before it has really gone bad.

The United Kingdom reports that over half of wasted food could have been eaten. The same probably goes for America. All it takes is awareness. Be conscious of what you do. Eat what's on your plate. The phrase doubles as a metaphor for life. Waste not want not.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

GRAY MATTERS

I was watching the TV show Naked and Afraid last night as I sometimes do. The show teams together two strangers, a man and a woman, who attempt to survive on their own for a period of 21 days in some remote and isolated region. Some of the locales featured include the Australian Outback, the Amazonian rainforest and the African Savanna. The man may have a military background, or be an adventurist or deep sea fisherman. Sometimes he's an ordinary dude who lives with mom. The woman is a park ranger or extreme fitness enthusiast or "just a mom" herself. Sometimes the couple quarrel, sometimes one or both "tap out" (quit) in a fit of anger or illness. It is satisfying to see them actually make it through the challenge and reach their extraction point. The victors are usually exhausted, emaciated, begrimed and bare ass naked. 

Even more satisfying, at least for me, is the occasional ass shot, snuck in at strategic intervals to boost viewership, of course. It's co…

EVERYTHING'S INTENTIONAL

There is no such thing as screw-ups.

Case in point. My excellent friend Deej comes over to help me beautify the garden. He immediately dives in, crouching down on his knees and weed whacking with his bare hands. Before I can say yay or nay, he proceeds to remove a huge clump of daisy greens from the oblong patch of Earth adjacent to the driveway. The area instantly looks bare. Like the back of Woody Allen's head. Smoothing out the soil and shaking his head Deej mutters to himself "I fucked it up!" over and over again. We try everything. Planting succulents in the daisy's place. Covering it with rocks. But still the area looks barren. And every time you water it the water trickles down onto the sidewalk in the absence of roots to hold it in place. It's getting dark so we go back inside. The next day I return to the spot with a clear perspective and remove all the other daisies, leaving only rose bushes and the succulents that DJ planted, and depositing 10 bags of m…

SOUL CYCLE

This is not a commentary on the latest fitness fad. Because if it were, the little I'd have to say on the subject would be largely derogatory. I simply cannot see see how crouching in a stuffy, dark, cramped room surrounded by sweat-drenched strangers while expending a lot of energy and going nowhere deserves to be called fun, though aficionados tell me it is (fun). I tell these aficionados that if no pain no gain is your thing, discomfort can be had for a lot cheaper than $50 an hour. Try plucking your nose hairs. What we don't do for the sake of beauty. This endurance heir to the Stairmaster and elliptical is all hype. There's a name for the type who likes to run (or otherwise move) in place. It's called a hamster. 

This reminds me of a joke my father likes to tell, about what living with a woman turns a guy into. You go from a wolf to a sheep to a hamster. After nearly 40 years of married life, my dad has added cockroach to the zoological lineage. Which I'm sure …