Wasted in America
Chef and Zen priest Edward Espe Brown says we should treat our food like our eyesight — as something both precious and personal. We don’t. According to a recent study in Tomkins County, New York, we toss uneaten a quarter to half of all food produced in this country.
This would be wrong at any time. It’s especially so now, a time of economic hardship for all of us, and when more of us are hungry than you might realize. Thirty-seven million Americans rely on Feeding America, the national network of food banks. Wasting what we have is an insult to people who have to choose between eating or paying the rent. It is also an insult to the people who work hard (often for low wages) to produce our food.
We waste food in our homes, buying more than we need, so we end up throwing out fresh produce when — or well after — it starts to fade. We’re quick to flip out over the latest E.coli breakout and demand greater government oversight for food safety but meanwhile, some of us have science projects growing in our fridges.
Waste is not green, guys. And it’s not sustainable. Most of us don’t compost, so the waste goes into landfill and sits there producing methane, further contributing to climate change.
If you think you’re guilty, imagine the waste that happens in your favorite restaurants. Multiply that by 500. By 5,000. Think of the mountain of landfill when you multiply that waste by 55 million — roughly the number of meals a food service company like Sodexo serves in a day.
We’ve got to do better, both on a grand scale and small one. The desire is there, believes Mitchell Davis, vice president of the James Beard Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving — not wasting — America’s culinary heritage and its future. “People want to do more,” Davis says and so recently, the Beard Foundation and the Sustainable Food Laboratory hosted the industry symposium The System on Our Plates.
Underwritten by groups including the Pew Charitable Trust and the Grace Foundation, those fine folks who started the Meatless Mondaycampaign, The System on Our Plates included Sam Kass, who cooks for the Obamas, divine chef Eric Ripert and the likes of guys from Ruby Tuesdays and food service companies like Cysco and Sodexo. The goal, says Davis, was “sit down together and start the conversation” about how we all make sustainability central. People talked. And more importantly, people listened. The dialogue made everyone realize that whether you’re responsible for feeding millions or just feeding yourself, “we are all part of one food system.”
A Beard Foundation chef survey reveals though your average Joe is interested in how our food is sourced, we’re less conscious of the energy and resources — and waste — that goes into producing food. Well, that makes sense — we don’t understand or appreciate it at home, either. So where does the change start? With the government? With food system overhaul? Nah. It begins with you.
Pay attention. Are you a repeat offender, buying fresh fruit every week that goes uneaten? Buy less. Enjoy more. Use what you have. Mindfulness works on the yoga mat, in food service and in your kitchen. Be mindful of and grateful for the food you have. Maybe the earth takes note of such things. Food companies do.
Whether it’s buying into the food fad du jour or creating farmers markets that allow greater access to better food for all, “it all comes from consumer demand,” Davis believes. “One decision impacts the other. You create the catalyst for change. Sodexo serves 55 million meals a day. If one of them included an organic tomato, it would change the universe. It’s like the meatless movement — one simple thing you can do has such a big impact.”
Turns out Edward Espe Brown’s concept of valuing yourself and what you eat is more than just a Buddhist concept.
- Link here to Ellen’s Arugula Pasta with Salsa Cruda.
- See more of Ellen’s Meatless Monday Musings on VegKitchen.
Ellen Kanner is the Huffington Post’s Meatless Monday blogger, the syndicated columnist The Edgy Veggie, and contributor to publications including Culinate, Bon Appetit, and Every Day With Rachael Ray as well as her own blog.