Have you seen the cover of the March 2016 edition of National Geographic?
A plethora of produce, ranging from potatoes and radishes, to peppers and carrots (with a couple kiwis for tropical diversity) pique interest with their unconventional appearance, and lure the observer to follow the paper (page) trail to its feature story, titled, “Too Good to Waste: How ugly food can help feed the planet,” sandwiched in the middle of the magazine.
Contrary to popular belief of picture-perfect fruits and veggies, these peculiar, culinary cover models resemble shapes, colors, and sizes that the food industry’s current ‘beauty-pageant standards’ would deem to be deformities, unappealing and therefore unsellable.
“It’s all about quality and appearance,” says Rick Stein, the Food Marketing Institute’s vice president of fresh foods. “And only the best appearance will capture share of the consumer’s wallet.”
Unfortunately, Stein speaks to an inconvenient truth when it comes to global food waste, evident by the following statistics, researched by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):
- About one third (33%!) of our planet’s total food produced goes to waste,
- which amounts to 2.9 trillion pounds per year,
- which is enough to feed 2 billion people,
- while 800 million people worldwide suffer from hunger.
If food waste were a country, it would rank (pun intended) third in greenhouse gas emissions, behind China and US truly.
And here’s the produce-pitching paradox:
Developing areas, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, Middle East and Latin America, understandably lose more fruits and veggies in production, due to lack of adequate storage facilities, decent roads, proper refrigeration. And yet people there waste less than 20% of what they grow.
Industrialized nations like US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have both the infrastructure and funding that results in considerably fewer losses during production, whereas the majority of food waste (53%) comes from particular buyers, retailers, and restaurants ordering, serving, and displaying excessively, as well as (picky) consumer’s with their (privileged) selective eating and neglected leftovers.
So what can we do when agriculture already accounts for 70% of our planet’s freshwater use, 80% of our planet’s tropical/subtropical deforestation, and 30-35% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions?
For starters, please do your personal best to waste no food!
It’s inconceivable to me that anyone with good-enough conscience to have read and reflected, even for a moment, on this article would carry on in a wasteful way, without at least some moral, ethical, gut-feeling remorse.
Additionally, I find it helpful to volunteer in the fields of a local farm (Happy Heart Farm), as well as the commercial kitchen of a nonprofit organization (FoCo Cafe), so that I may see different perspectives along our food supply chain and inevitably glean valuable, life-changing experiences.
Ultimately, it’s up to you, me, each of us to transmute these concrete statistics and abstract concepts into something more meaningful and redemptive.
We, here at the Fort Collins Food Co-op have a partnership with The Growing Project, a local non-profit organization dedicated to food justice, which features a group of volunteers called Food Finders, who stop by the co-op twice a week to pick up a medium-sized cooler full of edible, although unsellable produce, as well as “expired” dairy and grocery items, and bring it over to the friendly folks at Fort Collins Rescue Mission, who are always grateful to receive the donations.
One of our member-owners, John “The Colorado Worm Man” Anderson, besides having what sounds like a cool breakdancer nickname, offers a unique service that involves collecting food waste from various food-service establishments to feed to his red wiggler worms in an earthy process called vermicomposting. This includes a twice-weekly pickup from the co-op, which amounts to about 150 pounds of nutrient-dense compost every week!
For me, the acts of growing, tending, harvesting, selecting, sharing, eating food are as sacred as they are sensual.
As such, wasting edible food—unavoidable though it may be at times—remains unacceptable to me.
And I admit, sometimes I get swept up in the social inertia of our modern madness, forgetting to honor nourishing food—in every form—that sacrificed its life so that I may continue to live.
Let’s be more mindful when it comes to keeping our bellies full. We know landfills don’t need food to survive. And yet we are all culpable in somehow allowing our fellow brothers and sisters, who are living, breathing, food-eating human beings just like you and me, to suffer from starvation.
So as we gather around the table from now on, let’s continue to think and to deliberate how we might make such important, necessary changes as an individual, as a family, as a neighborhood, as a community, as a state, as a nation, as a world.
Because if we continue mindlessly consuming and ultimately desecrating our planet with the industrial, self-absorbed mindset that got us into this mess, and if we fail to have the heartfelt willingness to make simple, significant changes to our daily routines, there may no longer be leftovers for any of us.
There may no longer be us.