This post is part of my series on food waste, for the UNEP/FAO World Environment Day 2013 Reduce your foodprint! ‘Think.Eat.Save’ campaign.
Re-published, for greater awareness, on Living Green Magazine.
I scour a market for bananas. They’re there, green, hard bananas, with a faint yellow hue. They don’t even look like bananas, and they are definitely not ready to eat for, at least, another 4-5 days. A ripe banana is a spotty one. A ripe papaya is softer to the touch and also spotty. A ripe pineapple is entirely yellow. A ripe cantaloupe will have some dents in it. And they all emit very juicy aromas.
But those are slightly ‘ugly’ and ‘smelly’ to sell, so supermarkets pull them off the shelves as soon as they start to ripen. Some don’t even have half-off, ‘for immediate consumption’ bins. What do they do, instead? Well, some fruit and vegetables are cut up and sold per serving but mostly, they throw away perfectly ripe, healthy produce because they don’t look pretty and shiny. Perfectly ripe bananas? In the dumpster!
On top of that, there are well-known markets that also lock their dumpsters, so you can’t even ‘help yourself’.
– That’s because I’m on a diet. I eat only half of everything I order.
– What happens to the other half?
– I leave it on the plate..
– ..and it gets discarded. Why don’t you just order half?
– There is no such option.
– The portions here are massive! They could easily feed two adults.
The problems: mindless consumers and massive appetites = rampant overconsumption.
We have no food in the house! – he defiantly slams the fridge door.
Can this be..? There are things rattling in the fridge, there are cupboards of foodstuffs, and the fruit bowl there on the table is half-full.
In fact, there is enough food to comfortably and nutritiously feed 4 adults for 3-4 days, even up to a week, if we were so determined to go through all the items: the leftovers, the wilting vegetables in the bottom bin, the grains, the condiments, the snacks, the frozen food.
The problem is not what we have, it’s what we crave.
If you live in any of the western countries, the main culprits of food waste, these scenarios are probably already very familiar.
No doubt that we are a society that is consuming – products, services, content – so much more than we can digest.
We are conditioned to and manipulated by the marketing and industry forces to constantly consume. As industry standards and our stomachs keep expanding, we are most likely consuming more than we think, sometimes double the daily calories.
1. Plan ahead. That’s a notion that some of us cringe hearing. Let’s say that you, due to the sheer busyness in your life, do the grocery shopping on the weekend for the rest of the week. You have the list, you have an idea how much and what you usually consume and cook in a week, and so you shop accordingly. Then on Tuesday you suddenly get a dinner invitation, and on Wednesday you sleep in and don’t eat breakfast at home, and on Thursday you forget your lunch, and the following weekend there are heaps of uneaten food in the kitchen.
Yes, life is very unpredictable, and that’s one of the best things about it. But just because the lettuce has wilted on the ends and the cheese is a bit dry and the bread has hardened, it doesn’t mean it should be immediately tossed. It’s still edible, and even appetizing. You can be creative and use it in a dish: throw the lettuce in a blender with some bananas for a green smoothie, toast the bread, and load an omelet with cheese, etc.
Alternatively, wrap all of it together and take it to a homeless fellow on the corner, he would be glad to have it – and maybe that will motivate you to re-evaluate your priorities as well.
If you’re prone to accepting spontaneous invites for meals, intentionally buy fewer groceries.
Inspect your cupboards before you go grocery shopping, there are usually some edible items tucked in there which you bought at one point. If you don’t use them, consider donating to a food kitchen or a food bank. Maybe that homeless fellow again?
2. Don’t be so impulsive. Ah, the joys of modern food creations and the sheer inventiveness of edibles out there are truly stunning.
Just because there is a new chocolate-flavoured cream cheese doesn’t mean that you absolutely must buy it. What is the likelihood of you loving it? In all probability, you will have a spoonful, toss it back into the fridge, forget about it for a few months, then finally chuck it. If you’re really so daring and experimental, which the food industry hopes for, read the label and think about the artificiality of that flavour and the manufacturing process undergone for that final product.
And remember, all packaged food is reproduced, all reproduced food is fake. Whole foods are always the best choice.
And if you are not as daring and experimental, then stop buying all the exotic foods that you hope to learn to love but just always end up in your bin.
In effect, don’t bite off more than you can chew.
We are constantly surrounded by mountains and mountains of packaged foods, prepared meals, frozen fare, free-flowing coffee, milk, and sugary soft drinks. Single servings have gone up, drinks up to a gallon, plates the size of party serving platters, fixed-price, all-you-can-eat buffets and affordable fast grub at every step. Most likely, that stomach growl when someone says they’re “starving” is a simple craving.
The point is: we are no longer even attuned to our body’s needs. Our eyes are hungry and we salivate because we are being brainwashed into what to want and what to crave.
The industry is dictating our cravings and our consumption patterns.
And it’s no doubt that it’s exceptionally hard to resist them as well. They are especially formulated to target those who say they are strong-willed and determined.
World Environment Day is June 5th.
Reduce consumption, reduce food waste, reduce your foodprint: Participate in UNEP/FAO ThinkEatSave World Environment Day campaign and consider how all of our choices are affecting our surroundings and its present and future capacity.
Visit UNEP’s thinkeatsave.org site for some eye-opening, inspiring info that should spur you into action!