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Food For Thought

My paternal grandmother, who was a teenage immigrant from Germany, never wasted food (or anything else I can think of). I remember watching with awe when she ate an apple. She didn’t peel it and discard the skin. She didn’t even twist off the stem and leave it behind. There was certainly no core to dispose of when she was finished. She ate everything– including the seeds.
Grandma never discarded leftovers after a family meal. Mostly, she ate those last few bites of potato salad, meatloaf or sauerkraut. For many years, she lived with my parents, and during that time, our refrigerator was cluttered with little dishes containing such things as seven peas, half a slice of bacon, bits of chopped onion, a glob of mashed potatoes, a quarter cup of chicken gravy, or two olives. When the next meal was put on the table, those little dishes of “perfectly good leftovers” were placed on the table where Grandma expected someone to eat them. They seldom went back into the refrigerator a second time– if nobody else ate them, Grandma did. She needed all those little dishes to house the next generation of dollops and smidges left over from the present meal.
During the years that Grandma lived with us, we didn’t have anything resembling a garbage disposal– unless you count the family dogs, cats, and some chickens and maybe a pig or two. If the leftovers were really disgusting, they were given to one of the pets, or thrown over the fence behind the clothesline where the pigs and chickens could either pick at them or trample them into the ground. Either way, Grandma figured they were not “going to waste” If they didn’t feed a person or an animal, then they were eventually turned into soil that would grow more food sometime during the future.
My limited experience with gardeners has left me with certain impressions about such things as compost piles. I know that, not too many generations ago, German gardeners put nearly everything back into the soil, including human waste, and what couldn’t be composted to provide a steady supply of rich black soil was buried and eventually went back into the cycle. Personally, I’ve tried composting and find it an inconvenience when I can go buy a bag of plant food for a few dollars. I figure if God wanted me to have a compost pile, he’d have invented a garbage disposal that led directly to the garden in the first place.
A recent news report informed me that the average family of four throws out every other bite of the food they buy. This is not a literal report– they don’t eat one bite and discard the next– but, between those leftovers at each meal and food that is purchased and never even makes it to the table for one reason or another, that family wastes $3,000 worth of food every year. This is a sobering statistic in view of the fact that over half of Americans are overweight. That means that, in spite of the fact that we waste half the food we buy, we still eat too mach.
I read that government regulations about some school lunches require that students put one or two servings of healthy food (fruit or vegetables) on their trays even if they don’t eat them. The theory being that, if the food isn’t on their trays, they are definitely not going to eat it. They may not eat it anyway, of course, but it’s a sure bet they won’t eat it if it’s not in front of them. It has been my experience that most schools have teachers and other school personnel supervising school lunchrooms. Mostly, their duties involve preventing bullying, unnecessary noise, and food fights. There are no rules about seeing that the students eat their fruits and vegetables and drink all their milk. That’s a parental responsibility and one that the kids are more than happy to see missing from the school lunchroom.
At home, we have a better chance of preventing food waste, but we don’t seem to be doing very well. This is not all our fault. It is becoming more and more difficult to buy exactly the amount of any particular food that we want. Things come packaged in amounts for four to six or more people. Larger amounts of food, especially meats and highly perishable fresh vegetables, are usually priced at quite a bit less per serving, making it wasteful to purchase more than you want. Do we pay more for just the amount we want, or do we buy in amounts that provide a savings even when we discard the excess? It’s nearly impossible for one person alone to consume a whole head of lettuce, a bunch of celery, an entire bag of those convenient baby carrots, or even a loaf of bread before they are over the hill. It makes sense to stock up on bargains on canned and dried foods, even frozen foods or those than can be frozen for future use. But be careful about buying lots of things that won’t keep more than a few days. Is it really a bargain if the price allows you to discard half of it? Remember that wasting perfectly good food helps keep the prices high.