This is Either Really Brave, or Really Stupid

Last night, several blog readers joined me over at the RRG Facebook page for a live chat during the Food Network’s presentation of a new special, “The Big Waste.”  It was, as you’d expect, a show about the appalling amount of edible food that is just wasted in America every day — the billions of pounds, annually, of perfectly good produce, meat, dairy, and other foodstuffs that are thrown in the trash and forgotten about entirely.  The show was great, but the conversation on the RRG page was even better.  This is a topic that seems to arouse a lot of passions in everyone, and having watched the show, I can tell you that it’s inspired more than a momentary reaction in me — it’s gotten me itching for something I can DO about it.

I won’t be a spoiler, and I won’t rehash the whole show here, because I KNOW you’ll want to watch it if you didn’t catch last night’s airing, and it’s going to be rerun on Food Network at 4 p.m. on January 14.  So you’ve still got time.  But I will say this: There is a level of shock and dismay that I expected to feel upon watching a show devoted to uncovering wasteful food-handling in America…and then there’s a whole other level of distress, one that borders on nausea, and THAT is the level of distress I felt while watching this show.  Still feel, as a matter of fact.  When we live in a so-called privileged nation, and 1 in 4 of our children still doesn’t get enough to eat, sobering statistics like “Americans waste about 200 pounds of edible food per person each year” are nothing short of sickening.

The worst part, I think, is that I wanted to believe that all that food waste was happening on one of two fronts: either the sort of household crisper-drawer malaise we’re all guilty of from time to time, or somehow, as a byproduct of the great Food Industrial Complex — probably because, hey, I admit that I’d really like to be able to blame Big Food and Big Ag for just about everything.  Childhood obesity?  Big Food’s fault. High taxes?  Big Food’s fault.  Broken water heater?  Big Food’s fault.  Stubbed toe?  Totally gonna blame that on Big Food.   Unfortunately, it appears that I can NOT blame this ridiculously egregious amount of wasted food on the nefarious food industry.  Darn it.

No, it’s not entirely the fault of corporate greed or HFCS-peddling men in double-breasted suits, drumming their fingers together with anticipation behind the doors of board rooms while workers pump artificial colors into something that was formerly food.  It’s actually — at least according to the Food Network’s special — the fault, largely, of the American consumer.  That’s right, guys.  It’s US.  We are the problem.

You know how sometimes, when you go grocery shopping, you’ll see a tiny little imperfection on the outside of a pea pod and you’ll reject it outright, only choosing and purchasing the very most beautiful of all the pea pods in the land?  Yeah, me neither.  But apparently, there are many, many shoppers out there who do, in fact, insist upon having spotless, shiny, impossibly perfect produce…and meat…and seafood…and when those barely-spotted pea pods get chucked time and again to the bottom of the bin, the produce managers get wise and remove them.  Not because there’s anything wrong with them.  Because they just won’t sell.

Now, maybe it’s just me — I’ve always been the girl who, watching “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” each Christmas, wonders what in the heck is wrong with a spotted elephant, and wants to take that cute little pachyderm home for a cuddle — but I don’t mind a little imperfection on my food.  No, I don’t want anything that smells bad, or looks like it may have been used as a chew toy at the pound before hitting the butcher case, but I’m not a stickler for appearances.  I’ll buy the brussels sprouts with the aphid damage, the pea pods that are scratched and dented, the slightly splotchy bananas.  I may not seek those items out, don’t get me wrong; but I don’t mind if they find their way into my shopping bag.  If the bananas turn before we eat them, they’ll make great banana bread; I’m only after the peas INSIDE the pea pods anyway; and you can always cut around the aphid spots if they bother you so much.  It’s not a huge deal.  (I’m aware, by the way, that almost a decade of avid farmer’s market shopping has probably cultivated  this laissez-faire attitude in me — local, pesticide-free produce does not tend to look like it came from a showroom.)

But back to the Big Waste.  Apparently I am in a serious minority as far as my threshold for attractiveness in vegetables goes; the program showed several farmers, grocers, and distributors who were throwing away literally dozens of pounds (or more) of food every single day because it was “irregular.”  From scratched-up pea pods to eggs that were too small or too large, from cabbage that looked a little mangy on the outside layers to a whole FIELD of tomatoes that had fallen from the plants and were therefore deemed unsalable, there were just.  Mountains.  Of.  Good.  Wholesome.  Food.  Rotting.

I’m dismayed and angry and troubled about the whole thing, especially the meat — oh, God, the meat.  I’m a meat-eater myself, though I try to be moderate about it, and I don’t try to sugarcoat the reality of where that meat comes from — not to myself or to my family.  But if an animal’s life is sacrificed for us to eat, then I want that animal to be USED, not discarded.  Whole chickens, wasted because a single wing bone broke during the plucking process or a piece of skin was torn?  It’s horrifying to think that we’re wasting life at an alarming rate.  But even worse than the chickens is knowing that we’re allowing all of this wastefulness to go on with serious, deleterious consequences to HUMAN life as well.

It’s been a long-standing lament, not just of mine but of pretty much every conscious food writer/advocate in the world, that people who are living in poverty and food insecurity seem much more able to afford — and to access — utterly crapulous food.  I’m not going to do a whole review of the issues with food deserts and SNAP benefits and shelf stability and lack of proper cooking facilities, but it’s a basic fact that most food-insecure families in America are much more likely to have Kraft Mac n Cheese on their tables than they are to have brussels sprouts.  And I think if I had seen this special and found that the wasted food was mainly sweets and crackers and processed items that were past their shelf lives, I’d have been bothered, but not highly distressed.  However, knowing that it’s FOOD — honest, real, good, wholesome, healthy FOOD that’s being purposely tossed in the garbage bins and compost heaps without being offered to those hungry families first — really gets me.

No, I don’t know what the right answers are; I can’t tell you right now how to get those “irregular” eggs and tomatoes and cabbages and the broken-winged chickens and the barely bruised fresh filets of halibut from their farms and markets to, say, little Billy and Tommy at their inner-city apartment where their mom gives them a few bucks to buy dinner at the bodega because there’s not a whole lot of choice where they live.  (I have thoughts, though.  I always have thoughts.)  But I can tell you that we’re shamefully overfeeding our population, especially our low-income population, on junk that makes us all fat…and in the meantime, there’s healthy food nobody wants laying in a field somewhere, or being thrown into a dumpster, and there has GOT to be a way to reverse those trends so that the less-than-perfect fresh food gets into the hands and mouths of people who need it, and the Lucky Charms are the thing that consistently end up in the trash.  Then maybe we’d actually have a shot at reversing a whole bunch of terrible trends that are destroying the health of our nation — industrialized shelf-stable food products, childhood obesity, and the coexistence of both overweight and malnutrition in our citizens, just to name a few.

I can’t, at the moment, wrap my brain around just what li’l ol’ me can do to make a substantive difference in so large and complex a problem.  But I CAN at least hold myself accountable, and I can invite the rest of you to join me in this endeavor.  Today on the Facebook page I broached the subject of possibly — just possibly — doing a weekly accounting of the food waste in my household, so I can be aware of it (and you can wag your disapproving fingers at me, collectively).  One of my readers offered to join in, and I hope some others will as well.  So here’s what we’re going to do:

Each week from now until March 21 (my birthday!), I’ll post a list of the sheer food waste that I’ve observed in our house.  To qualify as “waste,” it has to be — as a reader so astutely phrased it — “something you’ve just let get away from you.”  In other words, an inedible trimming from meat or produce doesn’t count, nor does the remnant of beaten egg from a recipe; but that shriveled-up beet that has been hanging out in the crisper drawer is absolute waste.  I don’t care if you compost it — composting is better than the trash, certainly, but it’s still a beet that didn’t  go into the mouth of sometone who may have needed it.

As I post, I’ll invite each of you to comment with your own food waste tallies.  Over time, the hope is that our average amount of waste will decline; and as we learn to do better, each of us can share our tips and ideas until we’ve compiled a good resource guide to eating only what we need, and needing only what we eat.  I have no illusions that this is going to be easy, folks, but if just not wasting food were easy, the Food Network wouldn’t have had to air a special about it in the first place.  Sometimes big changes and big ideas come from small places.  Let’s see if we can’t be one of those places, shall we?

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37 Responses to This is Either Really Brave, or Really Stupid

  1. Pingback: Food Waste, Week Two: Pleasantly Surprised | Red, Round, or Green

  2. Pingback: Gulp. Food Waste Report, Week One | Red, Round, or Green

  3. Rachael Warrington says:

    I enjoyed your article. I watched this show with a sense of horror. I would love to shop at a store that had seconds for sale; imperfect but perfectly healthy food. Turning the show into a competition I thought was a bit tacky. Feeding 100 struggling working poor would have made a much better story.

    I work in foodservice. I run a lunch program for a private schol. The amount of food that gets thrown away becasue the kids will not eat it, is shameful. We have an entire generation of parents who have no clue how to teach their children to eat whole, real and healthy food. If it is not breaded and cut into strange shapes, they will not eat it. I know this because on the days we make a lunch from scratch, let’s say the chili we made yesterday, they will not eat, our nubers were 125 for the chili. On chicken ring day our numbers will be near 300!!! And then the parents get upset with me for not making more healthy meals???? Really??? Who is suppose to teach your child to eat???? Can you tell I get a bit frustrated and exasperated about thsi issue?
    Anyways we do WASTE food at a horrid level.

    • Thanks, Rachel, and thanks for stopping by to comment! I think I’d love to shop for “seconds” as well, at least some of the time. (If you’re planning to make, say, applesauce anyway, seconds are far more appropriate than perfect produce!). And I think I see what you’re saying about the competition portion, which frankly, I barely even watched. Your idea about having the chefs feed needy customers would have been far more appropriate, I think.
      I’m so interested to hear from a food service worker. Do you really experience a lot of pushback from parents about wanting their children to eat better food — but then potentially not practicing what they preach at home? I know some food service workers who have said that in their schools, the parents want LESS healthy food precisely because they’re concerned that their kids won’t eat the healthier options. And of course, we’ve all seen the news articles about wasted food in school cafeterias, which are generally held up as proof that children will only eat if it’s “breaded and cut into strange shapes,” as you so aptly put it. (Of course, the fact that there’s massive waste even WHEN things are breaded and strangely shaped seems to elude everyone.)

      • Rachael Warrington says:

        Parents may say they want healthier meals, but they are not willing to put their wallet where their heart is. I had a parent come up to me and let me know that they did really appreciate the meals we were making (yeah), but then her daughter came up and told her she was eating a pbj (small uncrustables made with whole wheat bread) instead of the home styled meal we cooked that day. The parent was embarrassed and uncomfortable after all she had said to me.
        Then the other side of that issue is parents who want me to teach their children how to eat healthy and wave my magic wand so that they will not ask for broccoli at snack time. Yeah, right. Also they don’t come in and model the eating behavior with their children. And I have asked staff to eat their lunch with the students so that as a role model the children see someone eat salad and remain alive.
        The next favorite thing I see is a parent bring in fast food, which they are not suppose to do, but since this is a private school and nobody wants to tell the parent “No” is continues. So it is alright if mom brings in Mcydees, but they do not want me serving chicken nuggets with fresh salad, whole wheat dinner roll, mashed potatoes, fresh fruit and milk. Hmmm, did I miss something?
        So as a food service manager my job gets very complicated; the other side of this entire coin is that I have to make some money. I have to make my program stay in the black…we cook more (which takes one extra full time person), we use more fresh veggies and fruit (which also cost more), we serve whole meats that the kids have no idea what to do with it.
        Oven fried chicken- whole chicken legs with the thighs, breaded and baked off in the oven. Our studnets had no idea how to eat it. Several were disgusted because there were bones inside. They did not know how to pick it up and eat it. It had bones in it!!!!!! They were clueless, and many did not get a hot lunch that day so my over all numbers were way down.
        Home made mac & cheese- this stuff is really really good! My numbers drop from 235 to 160!!!! So the parents do not really support what I am trying to do.
        Also since we are a private school, we have low numbers for the free and reduce lunch program. Those dear children eat what is put in front of them for the most part and our thankful. That is a sad commentary of our lunch program.
        Today we are making home made chicken & noddles. We get random breast meat because it is less expensive, we cut it up our selves, then make enough for 300. 100 goes to our day care program we feed and the remaining goes to our k-8 grade program. We will have left overs. We have almost 500 in our k-8th school.
        Yeah I get a bit frustrated!

  4. Uly says:

    In the US, of course, much of agriculture is subsidized. Farmers sometimes effectively get paid NOT to plant certain fields, in order to keep the prices on grain or whatnot level.

    My mother once told me, and it sticks in my head, about how awful it was as a child. (I don’t know if it’s still like this, and I’m a little scared to find out.) She used to see films on the subject in school, all about how great the American economy is (Cold War era), and it’d be terrible, scenes of farmers dumping good milk right onto the ground because they’d produced too much and selling it would lower the value.

    One very easy thing anybody can do is talk to their local supermarket and ask them to donate close-to-the-expiration-date or damaged goods to the local pantry. They can take a tax deduction off of product they would have otherwise thrown out. It really is win-win.

    (Incidentally, it’s not just food that gets wasted. Want to talk about the waste in the clothing industry? It’s insane, literally insane!)

    • Uly, that’s a chilling thought — the idea of farmers wantonly wasting the crops/foodstuffs they have produced in order to stay within federal guidelines — but on the other hand, I suppose I knew deep down that these are the kinds of things that can and do happen whether I like it or not. There is so much wrong with US agricultural policy that it’s crazy-making.
      I know that in our area, there are very productive relationships between grocery stores and our food donation agencies, but there are still lots of avenues that probably could and should be explored. Also, it’s worth pointing out that there are often little “loopholes” that most people are not aware of when it comes to buying their own groceries — for example, there is one store in our neighborhood where I’ve been able to ask before whether they might have “banana bread” bananas in the back, and they’ve been sold to me for a reduced price. Not every store has things like that, but I guess it can’t hurt to ask.

  5. Justin says:

    I’ve yet to actually see the show (I’ll catch the one on the 14th), but I was really intrigued by your post and the conversation we had today in-person (lucky me that I have the privilege of lunching with a fellow foodie daily). Some random/related thoughts:

    – There are a few “Scratch and Dent” grocers who thankfully take advantage of such waste. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were more of them. Each year, my parents visit one run by the Amish in Pensyllvania called BB’s: Mostly, it’s packaged food that has lost its labels, is close to the sell-by date, or dented/damaged packaging, but they do have quite a few perishables, including a walk-in dairy cooler, “day-old” breads, and whatnot.
    – I vaguely remember reading a post on one of my favorite canning websites (perhaps, but I can’t find the exact post) regarding a team of folks who stand at the ready to go to orchards and farms and pick the leftovers after the prime season has ended. The goods are either canned by the team for personal use or donated (again, I forget the exact details). It wouldn’t be that hard to set-up a similar organization of “picker SWAT teams” in areas with farms and offer to go pick the remnants or the stuff that has dropped to the ground.
    – With respect to your counting waste at home…good luck! I can’t wait to see how it turns out. It reminds me of the “Nature’s Classroom” camp I attended as an elementary school student. At the end of each meal, they’d scrape all the food you took onto your plate but didn’t eat into a bucket and weigh it for the “Ort Report”. The idea, of course, was to teach about waste and conservation of resources and energy. Turns out, “Ort” is a real word… “A morsel left on one’s plate after a meal.” Incidentally, Spaghetti and Meatball day was always the cleanest day.
    – I just noticed a slightly blemished tomato in your blog’s wallpaper. How appropriate. 🙂
    – It’s truly sad how much the retail industry alone throws away. If you’ve ever worked in a donut shop, bakery, or coffee shop, you know that they’re one of the worst (for prepared foods, anyhow). Coffee is re-brewed every 4 hours or less and pastry is tossed daily if not every half-day. Very rarely is it donated due to health department regulations or company worries about employee theft (i.e. you may have prepared extra just so you can take more home free at night so it must be tossed–company policy).
    – Seems to me that food discarded at the source (the farm, the middle-man, or the grocer) could be put to good use in school districts. Almost a no-brainer to form partnerships between local grocers and school cafeterias. Even if it just gets decent fruit out to the kids.
    – I don’t think people realize how much our government actually encourages waste through overl-cautious or sweeping regulations and standards (admittedly, for our own safety). For example, food safety rules dictate that items be blindly kept “no more than N days” regardless of what the item might be or whether it might still be perfectly good. Incidentally, the same goes for drugs. Federal law requires an arbitrary 1 year expiration date on all medications, regardless of whether they’ve actually lost effectiveness or not.

    • Whew! Justin, quite a post! Thanks for all your great thoughts. 🙂
      I really love the idea of figuring out how to send teams of people out into fields to glean what is laying there going to waste. Even if those items were then simply sold, with full disclosure and at reduced prices, rather than being donated (which would be my ideal world), it would be a wonderful service and would take care of so many problems. And your “ort report” thing cracks me up, because you’re probably the third or fourth person in the past few days to mention that to me!
      It’d be great to make partnerships between local grocers/farmers and schools, but I bet — without knowing for sure — that there are strict regulations about serving “undesirable” foods to students. Also, I bet the large food service companies that often run the school cafeterias have their own buying/sourcing practices that would bypass local food producers in large part. It’s a quandary, for sure, but something that I think could be changed…with enough time, knowledge, and dedication.

  6. Deb Neyens says:

    It really bugs me to throw away food. My husband is one that if it’s a day past the expiration date (or sometimes even the day before) he’s ready to chuck it. I say if it looks fine and smells fine, we’re going to eat it. I’m not perfect by any means, but I have gotten creative about “repurposing” food that might otherwise end up as trash. Case in point: I made a butternut squash and white bean dip that just wasn’t good as a dip, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. I ended up making mac & cheese out of it. It was quite good, and I’m making it again tonight as a matter of fact – on purpose, this time. I actually wrote an article about it. I’d be happy to send you the link if you’d like to read it.

  7. Jennifer says:

    As nervous as I am about really quantitatively knowing how much food we are wasting, I’m looking forward to this exercise because it can really only lead to good things. Really thinking about what we were eating lead to better eating. Examining the budget lead to less wasteful spending. Hopefully this will lead to better buying and eating habits and affect the budget in the process. I’m looking on the bright side!

    I added a last-minute side of sauteed swiss chard with garlic to our pot roast dinner last night, so that I could use up the big beautiful bunch of chard in the fridge! Winning already! (Especially since both kids decided that they liked the chard – they haven’t been big fans of cooked greens before so that was a surprise.)

    • I agree with you, Jennifer — only good things can come from this! I, too, am hopeful that there will be a change in our household budget long-term if we can start being smarter about food waste. Good job with the chard! So glad your kids liked it, too. That’s always a plus, when you feel like you’ve accomplished a few different food goals all in one shot!

  8. I have tried *really* hard to cut down in the waste in our home…One tip from our home:
    – When I bought a lot of greens (kale, chard, spinach, etc) on sale at Whole Foods last week, I sauteed them in a bit of olive oil, then stored them in a glass bowl in the fridge to be used in the coming week in a frittata, veggie sauce, etc. This spared me the 3-day-in-wilted-bunch-staring-me-in-the-face thing! This, of course, assumes you’re going to be using the greens in cooking. If they were to be used raw in salads or juices, then this (obviously) would not be an option. But, I am happy to say that this totally worked!! Look forward to hearing about this project and the results!!

    • I’m always so impressed with people who have been able to curb their food waste! It’s a challenge I have not tackled before but am game to try. I love your idea about processing your greens early in the week; I’ve often done that with many produce items. It occurs to me as well that if I were buying lots of greens on sale, I’d probably blanch and freeze some for use in casseroles, calzones, soups, etc. Good tip. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Amy says:

    One thing that gets me about food waste, is that for me, some of it is caused by the grocery store. For example, cilatro always goes to waste in my refrigerator. I can only buy a huge bunch, and for 2 people we are just not going to eat that whole bunch.And it doesn’t even usually last the whole week between grocery trips, making it even more impossible for the two of us to finish the bunch. Does anyone have any ideas as to what I can do with that?

    • Hi Amy! You’re right in saying that groceries do, often, package things for sale in quantities that are somewhat unreasonable for the average consumer. Cilantro’s a challenge for me, too (as you’ll see when I publish my first report on our household waste — yikes!). But one thing you can do, which I need to get better about doing, is to stick it in the blender with a little water and pulse. Then pour it into ice cube trays and freeze (you can later remove the cubes from the trays and put them into bags or another container to save space). Those frozen herb cubes can be popped into soups, stocks, stews…whatever you like, for added flavor later on. Does that help?

    • Uly says:

      Cilantro isn’t my problem (we use it in cooking most days), but thyme is. And for some reason we can’t get it to grow in my garden.

      What I finally figured out is that if I know I want to make a recipe (say, the ever-popular thyme lime chicken) that uses a “have to buy a lot of it” ingredient, I should plan my whole week around using that ingredient. So if I make thyme-lime chicken on Monday, I plan to make clam hash on Tuesday, meatloaf on Wednesday, and Hoppin’ John on Thursday. All those recipes use thyme, and between them I can use up the whole package before it goes bad.

      With cilantro (and gosh I love cilantro!) I might plan to make chana masala Monday, “Indian style sloppy Joes” on Tuesday (from this great cookbook, 660 Curries), squash and black bean chili on Wednesday, and salmon balls with cilantro on Thursday. (Also, cilantro comes with roots attached over here, so you can stick it in a jar of water in the fridge to help it keep longer.)

      We also use those green produce disks, and they seem to help the food last longer.

  10. Dina Rose says:

    Great article. Makes me think because while we have very little food waste in the house—I’m obsessed— I’m one of those people who bypasses slightly marred, but perfectly edible, foods in the market. I’m going to rethink. Thanks. Dina

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Dina! I’m impressed that you’re able to stick with a low-waste household (mine is SO not where I want it to be in that regard). I do hope you’ll stop and think twice about the foods you choose to buy, because so much perfectly good food can be found in unattractive packages!

  11. Anonymous says:

    So how do we fix this? Why aren’t food banks or local consumers invited to come glean the fields and the compost piles for these “unsalable” items?

    • That’s an excellent question, and one I hope to get answers to. I think part of it is that there’s a lot of regulation around what’s deemed safe for donation/consumption, so local laws may have to be changed to get food growers and food donation agencies properly linked.

    • Uly says:

      There are some programs run by food banks to glean, just as you suggested. But you have to look them up in your area for yourself.

  12. Who I hope paid attention to this show are the executive chefs at the restaurants. It would be a good start if they began to use those “irregulars” and in fact feature them on their menu. I do wonder if the 4 chefs involved in this show will begin doing that.

    I don’t cook as much as I probably should, so don’t know how much waste of this type I generate. However, maybe it is time to re-think this, eh?


    • Ed T.! Thanks for commenting. I agree with you that I would hope the buying habits of chefs would change based on discoveries like the ones that were made on this show. At the end of the program, I know all 4 chefs did pledge to start using more of these irregular/discarded items, but how those pledges are really put into practice is definitely another matter.
      I think it’s an EXCELLENT time to re-think your waste generation…and the non-cooking! 😉 Follow along with us and report back. I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say.

  13. Rebecca says:

    I know its not a simple answer, and it’s a problem in all so called developed nations that food waste goes on. Certainly, Australia has the same problems.

    Perhaps what you need to put out there is your desire to connect the producers of the less than perfect foods, with the food suppliers (charities etc) who provide food to the underprivelidged. Perhaps then, there is a small part of a solution!

    As for what is in your fridge – I noticed the issue of personal food waste a few years ago and worked hard on reducing it. The reality is though, that a small percentage of food ends up getting wasted. Teaching yourself to buy smarter and plan meals better means less wastage. Learning how to preserve foods also means less wastage. In the past our forebears knew about food ripening and creating gluts. They pickled and preserved like crazy during the production season of each product. Now we have the luxury of freezing too. Go ahead and freeze those peas & beans you bought. Pickle the tomatoes, or make sauce (or ketchup as you call it). When you get your fresh food home, make sure you find a way to conserve the fresh food and reduce the waste, instead of mindlessly throwing it into the convenient crisper.

    The reason we don’t do these things with our food anymore is that everyone now works. In the past the women had the time to do these things and stop massive food wastage. Now we opt for convenience, because we are terribly time poor. The desire for perfect food is just borne out of this, along with very insidious, clever and pervasive marketing designed to train people into looking for “perfection” in everything.

    I live in a tropical island country regarded as a developing nation but there is still food wastage as crops all ripen at the same time. What I cannot buy, is “perfect” fruit and vegetables. There are imperfections, holes, bruises, spots and even bugs. People buy it. The food tastes fantastic and imperfect fruit and vegetables are not fatal.

    • Hi Rebecca, thanks for commenting! I think the issue with connecting producers with service agencies is usually that the food safety and donation laws/regulations tend to work against the simple idea of donating unwanted food items. You’re absolutely right that it’s a part of the necessary solution, and I’m not saying it shouldn’t be explored; but in my experience, there’s usually a significant amount of red tape with situations involving food, charitable donations, etc. I’m interested to find out what the regulations are and see what the barriers are to making those necessary connections, though — I can think of several key players in my area who may be able to help surmount some of those challenges.
      It’s so true that preservation of food products is a long-lost art and skill. I absolutely advocate for planning, shopping carefully, freezing, and doing whatever is within one’s power to preserve fresh foods at the height of the season, and do many of those things myself. Your point about being time-poor is well taken, but I also think we all have more time than we really think we do and can at least throw some bags of fresh fruit into the freezer, or make a quick marinara sauce and freeze that for later use.

  14. Chris Harmon says:

    Around here (CA) if you try to say utilize a deer carcass from roadkill- even just for pet food- you can end up in big trouble.. I understand some states have a lovely setup where these critters don’t go to waste- not here. My hubby killed a deer (and our Subaru) one early AM.. the next day the carcass attracted a bear- and another car and the bear were damaged/dead.
    We recycle questionable food into our dogs. They are most appreciative.. I work in a hotel restaurant and watched the chef throw a plate full of prime rib into the trash as it had been returned-untouched- as overdone. I asked to take it home for my dogs- he actually hesitated before allowing me to have it!!!

    I gag when I see the food waste at my children’s school.. but then I consider what they were being fed and I am not so upset it was thrown away..o.0

    • Hi Chris — nice to see you on here. There is a TREMENDOUS amount of waste in the restaurant industry, and while I’m no expert, I understand that much of it is caused by the food safety standards to which they must adhere. As crazy as it sounds, throwing away untouched food is considered safer than letting others take it home for their own families (or pets).
      School food waste is also pretty egregious, and again, there’s no clear-cut solution. Children will throw away whatever they don’t want to eat, and I can’t think of a great use for their half-eaten (or even untouched) Sloppy Joes. However, some schools do have composting programs, which I suppose is at least better….but it’s a disaster, the amount of edible food that goes to waste in cafeterias each day.

      • Uly says:

        And unfortunately, schools aren’t allowed to exercise sensible portion control. The rules for lunches are based on the idea of each child eating 1/3 of their daily calories at every meal. Schools can’t give a half serving and say “Come back if you’re still hungry”, they have to fill up the plate with a whole 600+ calorie meal, every day, before you add in optional add-ons like ice cream and chips, or snacktime.

      • That’s an excellent point, Uly. Rather than allow kids to take what they’ll eat and eat what they take, we’re mandating that every child have the same amount of food, which is just a recipe for waste.

  15. Kathryn says:

    Great post. It saddens me too. I read an article about a farm in Florida where they let an entire strawberry crop go bad because it was more cost effective than picking, shipping and selling it. I thinks its too, too bad what a litigious society we live in where food producers fear a lawsuit from dinged food. Even fast food would be better for some homeless shelters than no food at all. Yet how much of that is thrown away too? Sad!

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Kathryn! I’ve heard terrible rumors about farms like the one you mention — I always tried hard to believe that they weren’t true, but after watching that show, I’m sure there are more things like that happening than any of us want to think. You’re so right about the fact that the fear of lawsuits plays some role in the food culture we live in; certainly laws about donating food to shelters and so forth are written partly with safety in mind, and while that’s right and good, there is a definite trend towards overcautiousness that probably contributes to more food waste than is necessary. There are no easy answers, that’s for sure.

  16. TB says:

    Sunday nights are sad around here. Garbage day is Monday and my fridge HAS to be cleared out before then. I hang my head in shame…..

    • As long as I’m not the only one who’s going to be ashamed! 🙂 Seriously, we’re all in this together, and I think it’ll be good for me, at least, to own what I’m responsible for as a contributor to the mess we’re in.

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