I was originally going to compose a post about conserving resources and how conservation, environmentalism, and sustainability need to go hand in hand for any of the three to be fully accomplished. My original theory was that the key to sustainability is not having too much to sustain in the first place. That a family should use all of the resources available to them wisely, including food, electricity, water, money and time.
Creating your own resources gives new realization into what a resource actually is. For instance, to pick up a rotisserie chicken after a day’s work means nothing personally except for maybe five dollars out of your wallet. It can be picked up, eaten and discarded without thinking at all about it. Having to purchase or hatch a baby chick, protect it, feed it, house it, and then slaughter and cook it makes you realize how important every bite of meat on that animal is. Other countries realize this. The average American household throws away 1.28 pounds of food per day when none of that should ever be wasted. Bones should be cooked for soup, leftovers should be preserved, and vegetable scrap should be composted (or better yet, fed to a chicken, rabbit, or goat, and then the animal waste should be composted).
So that was the start of my original post. I was going to do some statistical research on American’s personal waste when I came across a book that blew my mind. The title is American Wasteland by Johnathan Bloom. According to his research, America throws away 160 BILLION pounds of food annually. That includes not only household waste, but restaurant, processing, and farm waste as well. It does not even include what he considers to be inedible scraps such as peels, pits, and bones. We are talking only about potentially edible food here. The average American personally throws away 1/2 pound of food per day, or 197 pounds of food, per person, per year. With an estimated 13 million Americans not having enough to eat, this just seems so wrong.
In his book he talks about not only the personal waste, but the corporate. It starts in the field with farmers training their workers to leave the less than perfect produce behind, stores refusing shipments by the truckload in the name of quality control, and our demand as consumers for “perfect” food. He addresses how food waste is affecting our future food supply because it also wastes non-food resources such as energy, climate, water and soil. From the greenhouse emissions created by all that rotting food, to the wasted fuel used to ship it uneaten from the farm to the store or restaurant and then again to the landfill, the waste goes far beyond just food. Our climate is being slowly destroyed by the rising methane levels caused by both the discarded food and the masses of cow manure produced to feed our super-sized demand for beef. But guess what, almost none of that food or cow manure is being composted commercially or used for fertilizer in this country. So all of that perfect manure is left to rot and raise the methane levels, while chemicals that pollute the earth are used instead to fertilize our food. Worried about the fuel your car is using? It takes 400 gallons of oil per year PER PERSON to feed us if you include transportation, irrigation, and fertilizers. The USDA estimates that if just the irrigation systems in this country could be made 10% more efficient, we would save 80 million gallons of diesel per year, not to mention the water. And since 1/3 of our crops are irrigated, not rain fed, that is a lot of water. I won’t even get into the bit on soil erosion.
Go outside, turn on you car, and let it idle for 30 minutes. That is the equivalent in wasted resources to your daily wasted food.
So what can we do? For a start let’s do something personally with our half pound of food. We could buy less food, be less picky, plan our meals better, order less at restaurants, freeze food before it goes bad, and use up leftovers. If we absolutely can’t use it up, then compost, compost, compost.
And if you can, make the time to read this book.