Saturday, October 8, 2011

Want Not, Waste Not

Before I go in for infusions I do a pass through the house to toss out rotting food so I don't have to deal with it when I am feeling lousy from the chemo.  When I did this pass yesterday, I was feeling bad about the fact that I tend to have eyes bigger than my stomach when I shop and inevitably buy food that winds up in the trash.  For example, last weekend I bought some tofu spring rolls and heirloom tomatoes that I did not eat this week, and likely now are fodder for the trash can.  This week I mostly ate a bean tortilla casserole that I forced myself to make with black beans I cooked last week which otherwise would be destined for the trash.

It seems to me that worrying about overshopping is a luxury that those who do not have enough to eat would envy.  However, NPR has posted a story to make us who waste feel even guiltier.  Citing a research study, NPR reported we Americans waste about 55 million tons of food a year, or 40 percent of the food supply.  This represents about a 50% increase in food waste from 1974 when big Farma was beginning to overtake American agriculture to give us lower food prices.  As food prices went down, increased food waste also accounted for 25% more water consumption, 300 million more barrels of oil a year and substantial increases in methane and CO2.  Another scientist cited in the NPR story concluded that the average family  gave up 1800 pounds of emissions from food wasted at home.  Luckily for some of us who mostly eschew animal products, 35% of the wasted food is chicken, fish and fruit while only 15% is nuts and legumes.  But, not so lucky for the environment because, as I have said elsewhere, food production and processing is the main source (80%) of greenhouse emissions.

All of this data leads me to two conclusions.  First, we need to cut down on production of animal products in the first instance given how much American food production is polluting the earth.  I do my part in trying to eat virtually no animal products, although I am far from perfect in my occasionally use of dairy products and eggs.

Second, and more difficult for me, is getting a much better sense of how much food to buy and what.  I cannot afford the time or energy to go to the store every day.  So I stock up on the weekends.  Inevitably I buy too many perishable fruits and vegetables.  Worse, for 6 months I belonged to a CSA and rarely ate any of the fruits and vegetables I got in my biweekly box.  I hate to cut off a customer for the South Central LA CSA, but I am more disturbed by all the rotting vegetables I throw away. I do not see myself able to donate scraps to farms or zoos, neither of which are nearby. Instead I need to figure out some system of what and how much to buy so I can reduce my waste foot print.  But with food so colorful, available and inexpensive it is hard to say no when the stomach insists it wants that this week. Self discipline and not wanting would seem to be the best answer I have for reducing household food waste.

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