(Wasted) Food for Thought

This weekend I cleaned out my refrigerator.

It wasn’t a pretty sight.

Not quite this bad, but there have been times…

I’ll spare you the details (and the images) but let’s just say a lot of stuff went directly into the compost bin. So while it was no longer fit for consumption (or possibly so) at least it isn’t going into the landfill.

Yet it was food we purchased and didn’t use. So at the very least, it was a waste of money. And our experience is, as I found out, pretty typical. According to this article on the Sustainable Brands website, up to 40 percent of America’s food is lost on the way from farm to table and from there to trash.

That’s 400 pounds of food per person per year. More than the body weight of my wife and me combined. In effect, we throw ourselves away each and every year.

And it’s not just the food that’s wasted. It’s the water that went into growing the food, and the fertilizer, and the shipping cost, and the time and energy the farmer put into producing it. The effect is felt across the entire life cycle.

Taken from the Sustainable Brands website article.

What’s going on? Is it an ironic curse that we have so much food we don’t appreciate it? My grandmother raised a family during the Great Depression and into her nineties she saved ham bones to make soup. She understood the value of food and that you didn’t waste it.

(Please note: I’m aware there are many people in this country who are undernourished and go hungry. For this post I’m focusing on the average American who has instant access to as much food as he/she wants.)

And I’m not talking just about what we buy for ourselves at home. Every running event I’ve been involved with has had some amount of food that was either only partly eaten, or (worse) taken by someone and then thrown away uneaten. I’m talking about entire cookies, bagels, bananas, oranges, and even entire sandwiches.

Why? Just. . .why?

This sort of careless, indifferent waste of food baffles me. If after your race you grab a banana out of habit and then decide you don’t really want it, okay. Take it home and eat it later, or give it to one of your kids.

And if that doesn’t bother you, perhaps this will. When you throw food away, in effect you paid more for it. You don’t buy organic because it’s more expensive than the conventional kind? I’ll bet if you bought the organic in smaller quantities and used it all, you’d save money in the long run.

Sure, my wife and I refer to Whole Foods as “Whole Paycheck,” but we buy many meals from that store and others like it. Not that we hate to cook – in fact, we enjoy cooking – but we work long hours and the prepared food bars are very convenient. It’s all fresh and nutritious, and tastes good. And it doesn’t disappear in the back of the fridge, to be rediscovered one weekend when it’s no longer recognizable as what we once put in the cart thinking, “Yeah, that looks good.”

So it wasn’t surprising that after emptying the fridge and putting back only the items I know we’re going to eat, it looked pretty empty. Not only that, I found I hadn’t put all the shelves back. And I like it that way!

Why does this feel so personal? Like I’m opening my bathrobe?

The more open look makes the food in there much more visible, and given that we’re empty nesters, we shouldn’t be stuffing the fridge full anyway. We’ll see if this makes a difference in how much food we throw away from now on. I sure don’t want to repeat the experience!

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