Food isn’t something most people think about. A lot of us wouldn’t consider ourselves to have a “relationship” with food, and many of us seem to ignore the value of it. We buy it, occasionally cook it, usually eat it. Usually? Yes, usually. Turns out, anywhere between a quarter and a third of the total food in America alone is thrown out instead of being eaten.
For me, food isn’t such a vague, distant entity. My family goes to a Farmer’s Market every weekend. My mother makes most of our food from scratch, and goes out of her way to find locally grown or organic products. While I’m not the cook in my family, I’ve been time and again pulled into the process of buying food, planning meals, preparing, and cooking for my family. Over the past two months, I’ve been in charge of shopping, meal-planning and cooking for 30-40 people at least once a week.
In my life, I’ve been greatly encouraged towards awareness of my food. I’ve drawn many conclusions about the systems and rules we follow, and they tend to boil down to something simple: Take a look in the garbage of the next restaurant you pass; the next house, the next grocery store, anywhere that’s probably gone through a lot of food in the past week. Chances are that’s most of what’s in there: scraps and leftovers, expired meat or milk, moldy bread, anything someone didn’t use or didn’t want has been thrown away. Have you ever really thought about that? I have.
Mold and rot aside, huge amounts of our food are thrown out on the basis of expiration date. Supposedly this is the day that the food is no longer good, but how objectively can we really determine that? If you’ve ever had a glass of milk that expired the day before, chances are, you didn’t get so much as a stomach ache from it. In truth, the expiration date only means so much. Go into a grocery store dumpster and find a steak that expired yesterday, and so long as the package is sealed, you could cook and eat it with no problem.
Now, imagine with me if all this food that was about to expire was donated. If we sent it to homeless shelters every day for them to cook with, or if everyone cleaned out their shelves a little sooner and realized those beans weren’t going to be cooked any time within the next month. All that food, donated to the people struggling for it, and none of it wasted. How many people would have better lives for it? How many lives would be saved? How many people would be able to get up on their feet, if they had the chance to worry about their lives beyond their next meal?
What if we simply separated our food waste from our plastics and rubber and styrofoam, and, instead of landfills, we had compost heaps? We could use it to grow more food, to grow trees, to give back to the earth instead of ruining it.
If we did that, I think it would change the world.
I have my own plan for feeding myself in the future. I’m going to grow my own food when I can. I’m going to find what I can, rather than buying it. I’m going to donate any excess that I have, which I can’t preserve. Any excess I have which I’m not preserving or donating, I’ll use to make compost. I’m only one person, but so are you. Every person makes a difference.