Are You Going to Finish That?

Somewhere, hundreds or perhaps thousands of miles away from me, a farmer gets up before dawn every morning.  She plows her land, she plants seed (perhaps with a story all its own), she cultivates, fends off pests, reacts to weather, and nurtures her crops until harvest.

That bounty is loaded onto a truck and hauled across a flat and repetitive landscape until it reaches a factory.   There, machines and humans process and package it, and eventually, load it onto another truck.

From there:  another journey — more miles, more people, more effort and energy — until it arrives on the shelves of a store where I first lay eyes on it.  I pick it out, I bring it home, and I add more energy — heat and my labor — to make it ready to nourish me and my family.

Then, one day, two weeks later, I find it in the back of the refrigerator…

“Hey, did you know this was still in the refrigerator?”

“No, that’s definitely not good any more.  Throw it out.”

Thus it ends:  the sun’s energy, the labor of so many strangers, and the fossil fuels all culminate in a deposit into our kitchen trash bin.

This weighs heavily on me for several reasons.  First, I don’t like to waste money.  (Who does?)  Second, this is an affront to our environment:  food production, transport, and storage uses a lot of energy and can contribute significantly to greenhouse emissions and global warming (see my previous post about food choices).  Finally, there’s also the psychology of “there are starving people in (insert country here) …” 

So, What Do We Do About It?

I’ve dabbled with my father’s approach:  eat whatever is left on any plate, or whatever is left in the refrigerator as long as it smells okay-ish.  Not going to eat that crust?  Dad.  Don’t want those last bites of chicken?  Dad.  Well, we can’t put that ice cream back in the carton, can we?  Dad.

This does seem to minimize the food waste, but I think it also contributed to an extra twenty pounds that my Dad carried with him while we were children, so I’m trying to find some alternatives.

After some family discussion, we arrived at a couple of small changes to get us started.

First, we got some smaller plates.  I got this idea from Slim by Design, and I like it both for helping to eat healthier sized portions and reducing food waste.  By using a smaller plate, we make smaller default servings, and so there is less leftover on the plate to get scraped into the trash.  New plates had long been on our list, anyway, so we took advantage of the opportunity.

Second, we upgraded to a Smart Refrigerator, keep-it-simple style.  

Smart Refrigerator Notepad
Smart Refrigerator

We keep track of what is in the refrigerator on our notepad, so that we don’t forget about something pushed to the back, and we make a more conscious effort to use what we have before getting more.

Finally, when we go out to eat, we try to check in more with our kids to see how hungry they really are, and we look for opportunities to have them share a meal with each other or with us.  This can save money and reduce food waste by avoiding barely-eaten kids meals that subsequently get forgotten at the restaurant, in the car, in the refrigerator, etc.

We’re just getting started, so I can’t really say how well each of these will work long term, but we are committed to experimenting and finding some steps that do work.

How about you?  What are your thoughts about food waste?  What do you and your family do to try to minimize it?

One other note:  I think about the life and supply chain of my food frequently, and I have read that someone, somewhere, already wrote a nice little article or essay about the story of the can of tuna that he found in his cupboard.  I’m sure that it was written much better than my own, but after 10 minutes of Google searching (requisite amount for deciding that something might not really exist), I couldn’t find the story.  If anyone knows of it and can provide a link, I’d be most grateful.

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