On wasting and wanting

Do you really need to throw that out?

A couple of weeks ago, my roommates and I cleaned out our fridge. Because there has not been a complete one-time turn-around in the house, there were bottles of sauces and dressings that, it turns out, didn’t belong to any of us. With four of us in the house, the fridge can become overly full and some produce falls victim to the “out of sight, out of mind,” quandary. I fought to keep a lot of food that, if I am honest, shouldn’t have been kept: the main reason being the shame I felt for the amount of food I knew was going to end up in our garbage bin.

Food that could have, and should have, been eaten.

The scale of waste

I am not alone, however. The CBC just released the results of a study showing that approximately 40%, or just under $27 billion worth, of food is wasted in Canada each year. This fact alone, although disheartening, did not come as a great surprise to me – I know that stores overstock and that food is often discarded a few days before its ‘best-by date’. What was shocking to me is that over half of this wasted food is not discarded by grocery or retail stores, but from our homes. CBC cites our country’s relative affluence as well as the low cost of food as primary contributing factors. Because food is affordable we overbuy and, when it isn’t used in time, we throw it out without too much deliberation or grief.

Why is this, given that so many of us were implored to “think of all the starving children” when we couldn’t (or wouldn’t) finish our plates as kids? Maybe we do need to take a step back and think about all the people worldwide who have very little access to food – the 870 million people who do not have enough food. While the justification that I used twenty years ago – that the food I didn’t eat couldn’t be sent to the starving children anyway – still stands, it stands on shaky grounds that, frankly, are not good enough anymore.

…approximately 40%, or just under $27 billion worth, of food is wasted in Canada each year.

It isn’t simply a matter of whether or not food we don’t eat can effectively be transferred to those in dire need – it’s a matter of respect. It’s taking the knowledge that an inconceivable number of people are struggling for survival – eating inadequate food in inadequate amounts – and adjusting our behaviour. Because if you know how many people are literally dying to have what you have in spades, isn’t taking it for granted and tossing it in the bin the equivalent of throwing salt in the wound? If we strive to be more conscientious about our purchasing habits – buying only what we actually need, and using what we buy – the effect on our wallets, the environment and the world can only be positive.

The global and the local

This is what has been on my mind heading into this week, and seems particularly appropriate given that Wednesday is World Food Day, marking the 67th anniversary of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Association. There are a number of events marking the date across Newfoundland. For those of you in St. John’s, the Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador will be hosting its annual World Food Day Movie and Meal on Friday, October 16th.

Each year, a theme is set for World Food Day, and this year it is ‘Agricultural Co-ops – Key to Feeding the World.’ Cooperatives give small-scale producers greater access to credit and increased negotiating power with purchasers. Given that many experts tout the ability of larger numbers of smaller-scale initiatives to feed more people locally, with lesser environmental impact, it seems like a fitting theme for a time when crises seem to lurk around every corner.

…it’s a matter of respect. It’s taking the knowledge that an inconceivable number of people are struggling for survival, eating inadequate food in inadequate amounts, and adjusting our behaviour.

Whether or not you agree that cooperatives and small-scale industry is the right way forward, the harvest season is a good time to reflect on our own consumption habits. The decisions we make at the grocery store, farmers’ market, restaurants, and at home do make an impact. Our purchasing trends are effectively a vote as to what we want, and in what quantity. I am in agreement with well-known philosopher Peter Singer, who claims that since the world is not as big as it once was – and so we cannot simply be good neighbours in order to be good people – that it is immoral to stand idly by while we know that people are unnecessarily starving to death, regardless of how far those people are from us, geographically speaking.

So how much do we really need? How much do we want? Is there a way to narrow the gap between those two answers, to be more grateful for what we already have?

It may be, as the old saying goes, that enough is as good as a feast.

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