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Food. It’s something we literally cannot live without. I’d like everyone to think back to what they ate today. Now I’d like you to think how much you ate today. Did you eat all your food or did you end up discarding some?
These are questions most people do not ask themselves every day. But why shouldn’t we? Food is an integral part of life, the crème de la crème, the apple of our eye. If food is so important, then why do we waste it?
A couple of weeks ago I watched a documentary, called Just Eat It. It talks about a couple, Jen and Grant, who went on a quest to discover more about food waste. They did something most people would think of as disgusting. They went 6 months only eating expired food and food people discarded. Sounds crazy, right? When Jen and Grant first began their journey, they expected to be digging through dumpsters to find scrapings off of people’s plates. However, the amount of still edible food they found in dumpsters was incredibly horrifying. For example, Grant found this huge dumpster full of hummus. The craziest part was that the hummus still had about 3 weeks left until it expired. This documentary really made me think of how much I’ve been wasting food. It made me want to dumpster dive to see how much edible food I could find. I’m not sure whether it’s legal or not in NC, maybe the lawyers in the house know?
Now, imagine you’re walking to your car from the grocery store with three bags of groceries. Imagine dropping one of your bags and just leaving it there. That is the equivalent to how much food we waste. According to a USDA study, Americans wasted 31% of food produced in 2010. That added up to 161 billion dollars, more than even Trump has.
However, food waste isn’t just at the consumer level. 30% of harvested crops never even make it to the store. Farmers discard parts in order to make the food more aesthetically pleasing. This is due to the frame of mind people have when they buy produce. We want our fruits and veggies to look shiny and perfect. I’ll admit it. I tend to avoid buying bruised apples and weirdly shaped potatoes. Though, in reality, imperfect-looking produce is still edible and delicious. For instance, Intermarche, a grocery store in France started selling weird-looking produce for 30% off. This was a successful campaign to raise awareness about food waste in France. I feel like an enterprise like this could be successful in America as well.
Not only is food waste an economic issue, but it also has harmful environmental effects. One of the biggest problems with food waste is how it all ends up in landfills. When food breaks down, it produces methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that captures heat in the atmosphere 20 times more than carbon. It doesn’t help that landfills also produce toxins that can leak into the water system.
Moreover, the type of food we waste can have an enormous effect on the environment. 33% of the food the average American wastes is meat. Not only is the livestock industry already unsustainable, but meat is the most wasted food group. The amount of water it takes to produce one beef burger is an hour and a half, the same as taking a shower. Factory farming is also one of the biggest producers of methane, next to landfills. Adding just these two examples together makes food waste one of the largest reasons for global climate change.
But don’t despair! There are many things you can do to minimize food waste. Shop wisely. A great thing to do on Sunday is a plan for the rest of the week. You can plan out all the meals you would need for the week. Then you can take stock of what you already have in your kitchen, so you only buy what you need from the store. At the store try to buy awkward-looking produce. Who knows maybe you’ll find a potato shaped like Jesus. Next, forgo expiration dates. These labels “sell by” and “use by” don’t determine when food goes bad. Only you can decide whether the food looks consumable. And really, if there’s a small spot of mold, just cut around it. You can also freeze it. One innovation is to save all your food you don’t eat. Even if it’s just a teeny bit of food, you can put it in a container and freeze it. At the end of the week, take all your frozen leftovers and make a stew out of it. Another solution is to eat smaller portions. Or you can share your food with a friend. You can also eat leftovers. If you don’t eat all your food at a restaurant, why not just take the leftovers home? If you hate wasting Styrofoam containers, I found it helpful just to bring your own reusable containers along. Next, compost it. Luckily on State’s campus, we have multiple composting containers. Or you could donate it. Have canned corn you probably won’t eat? Why don’t you donate it to a local food pantry?
Now, think back to what food you threw away today. Was it no longer edible or did you just pack too much? Now consider whether you still feel indifferent about throwing this food away. I hope that at least some of you have had a change of heart on this issue, for I wouldn’t want this speech to go to waste.
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