Avoiding Food Waste

A leading news magazine devoted a recent editorial to food being wasted in Canada. The waste does not only occur, for instance, when milk produced beyond the quota is being dumped, or through spoilage in storage, but to a large extent in our homes.

The figures quoted are staggering, allegedly in the billions of dollars per year. (However, I was unable to find the magazine’s sources, so I will not repeat their numbers here.) Think of what we could save on housekeeping expenses if we reigned in some of this waste!

It starts with shopping. We demand perfect ‘looks’ in fruit and vegetables. We check ‘best before’ dates diligently. But the website of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says, ‘Best before’ means just that. After the date, the freshness, flavour and texture may have changed, but the food is edible, not dangerous. It is just not ‘best’ anymore. Half-price bargains in yogurt, for instance, on the stamped date are not to be turned down if we plan to eat it soon.

The more I think about food waste the more questions I have:

Why are yellow bananas with a few brown spots on their skin not acceptable? At this stage of ripening they really taste sweet, are great for making banana muffins and may be available at a reduced price.

Why are end slices of a spongy loaf not edible? Really crusty end slices develop only in old-style bread that was not baked in a steam oven. I know because I bake my own bread in the oven of the kitchen stove. The end slices and crusts are chewy but taste good.

Why do some of us not utilize today’s left-overs in tomorrow’s meals? Added to a soup, left-overs can enhance nutrition and flavour.

Why do we keep carrots or potatoes at home until they become limp or spongy? I know I have done that a few times. Of course, prepared food is easier to serve than a meal of vegetables that have to be peeled, sliced and cooked. And for families where two people go out to earn a living, this is fully understandable. But proper meal planning can, in many cases, avoid such spoilage.

I think there are several factors at work which we must think about before anything will get better.

The occasional scare story in the media on recalls of meat (or whatever) has the effect of keeping us on a diligent watch for ‘perfect’ food.

The power of children to imitate is so strong. What we adults have seen our parents or grandparents do when we were young has become part of our set of semi-unconscious habits.

Great-grandparents who lived through the Great Depression of the 1920s and ‘30s know what getting food, or not getting it, meant to them. At that time, social welfare nets were almost non-existent. And at that time, many people had roots in life on the farm where feeding meal scraps to the pigs was the accepted way of avoiding waste without eating left-overs, end slices etc. Their children and grandchildren copied their forebears’ ways, as children do. But life in the city does not provide for feeding waste to pigs. So some of the food-wasting habits of today are unwittingly ‘hand-me-downs’ from parents to their (now grown) children. Psychologists know how habits are unconsciously passed on through the generations.

Today there are some young people who have little opportunity to see their parents prepare a meal because the parents are either at work or busy and preoccupied.

Children are lucky if their parents manage to arrange for the family to have a meal together—I mean at the table, not in front of the T.V. And snacking from the fridge does not teach anyone anything about meal planning.

Do our young people have any respect for the work others do in fields and market gardens to produce our food? Some don’t even know where carrots or milk come from, other than the supermarket shelf.

And that brings me to a point on which one or the other of my esteemed readers may not quite agree with me: Once we pay for food at the supermarket or at our favourite small store or farmers’ market stand, do we then own the food and can do with it as we please? Does the payment relieve us from thinking with respect of those who have laboured in the fields so that we can eat? The payment of money throughout the growing and distribution ‘food chain’ enables the farmer to pay his taxes and the producing workers and those in warehouses, trucks and shops to make a living. But do we show respect for their work if we are careless with the results of it? I think, owning the food we bought does not give us the right to disrespect their efforts and wantonly waste left-overs, for instance, instead of planning to use them in another meal later.

Today, many young people are lucky to have parents who insist on one family meal a day, or at least a week. At such a meal, television, cell phones and other distractions have no place, but good conversation has. Such parents can extend the respect and thankfulness to the planet and by implication to our Destiny Who put us here and, despite our shortcomings, feeds us, by saying grace before the meal. If this is done with attentiveness and in a manner that we mean the words we say, it can sharpen our awareness in a way that includes all I have said.

I think, for the average householder, avoiding food waste is mainly a matter of being more aware of what we are doing.