No free lunch?

I recently attended a luncheon held to honor employees who had worked for a particular employer for five, ten, fifteen, twenty and twenty-five years.  It was a lovely event – the food was good, the acknowledgements were heart-felt, and one could tell that everyone enjoyed working for the employer and felt privileged to be part of the organization.

But what struck me, because of my particular focus, was the amount of food that was wasted.  As the plates were being cleared, I was truly startled to see how much food people had left on their plates. Many of the folks at the luncheon work on sustainability and even their plates were not clean.  “YIKES!” said the voice in my head, “where do they think that food comes from?  Where do they think it goes?  How much water, energy, fertilizer, transportation is embedded in that wasted food?  What about the animals that were ‘on the table’? And yes, what about the money that was spent on it?” I had to work very hard at not commenting aloud.

One of the women in the buffet line had commented that I wasn’t taking enough food (trust me, I will never starve).  I realize now that I was taking an amount that I knew I could finish and not leave anything on  my plate; that way it would not be wasted.  Let me make clear, this particular venue does compost food waste, so it does not go to a landfill. (Remember, food in the anaerobic conditions of a landfill creates methane gas which is at least 23% more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to climate impacts).

So why is this waste of food (and the resources that go into its production) not taboo?  Why is it essentially invisible?  Are we all so privileged and complacent about food that it means nothing to toss it, especially if it’s “free”?  Do we think there’s an endless supply?  In the past, only the very rich could afford to waste.  Everyone else was very careful to not waste the least bit.  I’m a tightwad and want to keep my money for other things, not have it or my other resources go to waste.

Personally, I think that it is a matter of not having enough information to make best decisions.  These are not ideas that are commonly discussed in mainstream media, and we do all have busy lives……     It’s a matter of “that’s just how it’s done”.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  We are smart, creative beings.  We can do things differently.  Here is some information from Food Shift‘s Facebook page:

“40% of all the food produced in the United States is wasted. This unnecessary waste has huge social, financial, and environmental consequences. Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year in food and it is costing $750 million per year for disposal. Each time food goes uneaten, all the resources that went into producing, processing, packaging, and transporting that food are wasted too. This means huge amounts of chemicals, energy, land and 25% of all freshwater in the U.S. is used to produce food that is thrown away.

Additionally, most uneaten food rots in landfills where it accounts for almost 25% of U.S. methane emissions. Given the resources demanded for food production, the increasing realities of climate change, and the fact that 50 million Americans are food insecure, it is critical that we reduce waste and use global resources more responsibly.”

What ways can you change your current practices in order to stop sending food to a landfill? How much money will  you save?

To get you thinking more about avoiding food waste, here is a TED talk by NRDC’s Peter Lehner:

And here is a list of tactics to reduce food waste at home:


One Comment
  1. #

    Heres an easy one, especially in the winter…we keep a big ziplock bag in the freezer for all our vegetable clippings. The top and bottom bit from a carrot, greens off the head of cauliflower, all the parts of the onion you trim off, etc. When we get a couple big bags we put it in a big pot with water. Voila, our own vegetable broth! (of course the stuff we screen out goes into compost).
    Also I’d recommend anyone interested in this topic take a volunteer shift at their local food bank’s fresh food program. Having seen all the recently expired or just about to expire fresh foods and all the fruits and veggies that don’t look super great anymore come from the grocery stores and within 24 hours they will be in someones kitchen. Its very educational.