Saturday, May 8, 2010

Waste Not, Want Not: Part I

If you are going to write a blog about eating healthier and staying on a budget you really have to tackle the subject of waste. Waste is something that most people in my generation are keenly aware of. Those of us who grew up in the 80s will always remember the anti-litter campaigns and the grainy images of the overflowing dumps and landfills on the nightly news as our trash problem slowly emerged as something that needed to be discussed.

A weekly trip to the grocery store with my family includes taking a list so that we can stay on a budget, but invariably we end up at least 15% over that budget because of all the items that end up in our cart that were never on the list. It is not the kids that clamor for these food items. They are really too young for that kind of begging, and our problem now is getting the kids to eat at all, rather than overeating. It is myself and DH that are swayed into buying things like Kashi bars and $7 per pound dried blueberries. Well, okay, it is mostly me.

At least once a month I have to throw away foods that have not been consumed. It is mostly leftover side dishes that didn't get eaten, the ends of a loaf of bread, or juice that now tastes acidic and turned. There are always wilted veggies and brown fruit that we throw away. I sometimes lovingly refer to my refrigerator as 'The Food Museum', because everything is neatly packed into tupperware and on display. Look but don't touch.
Andrew Martin of the New York Times wrote in 2008 that

"...Americans waste an astonishing amount of food-an estimated 27% of the food available for consumption, according to a government study...It works out to be about a pound of food every day for every American."

Martin reports that it breaks it down into the following categories for a family of four each month:

18.5 pounds of grains
10.5 pounds of processed fruits and veggies
24 pounds of fresh fruits and veggies
22 pounds of liquid milk
10.4 pounds of meat and fish
15 pounds of sweetener
8.6 pounds of oils
12.8 pounds of other foods (including eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, dry beans, peas and lentils and dairy other than liquid milk)

Now his numbers include uneaten restaurant food and food that grocery stores throw away because of spoilage (also think foods that are unspoiled but past their expiration date) but it does not include ready to eat foods that grocery stores throw away like rotisserie chickens and sandwiches and soup. So although you could step back from these numbers and say "I am not directly responsible for this", we are consumers within this industrialized food chain, so technically we are culpable.

Martin's numbers were right in the middle of what I found when I searched "Americans waste food" at Some sites quoted more along the lines of 12% of the total food available while some more politically motivated sites quoted closer to 50%.

My current mission of shopping for unprocessed foods, I am hoping, will have 2 outcomes. One, That I will cook more often and eat higher quality things. And two, food will become less convenient so I will eat less of it. But I think there is a third thing factored into these two objectives, because I will be expending more time cooking I will be less apt to waste foods into which I have put all that effort. In a sense, food will become more valuable to me and my family. And for the Frugal Franny I am deep inside, I will save money in the process.
Isn't this what we all want?
Stay tuned this week, I bought ramps at the farmer's market and I am not sure what to do with them. And tomorrow I go in search of pressed peanut oil at the conventional grocery. I wonder if I will find it.
Works Cited
Andrew Martin. One County's Table Scraps, Another Country's Meal. New York Times Week in Review. 18 May 2008.