A Food Network program, “The Big Waste” aired about a month ago. I made a point of watching it to hear what they had to say. The show revolved around a challenge to four chefs to prepare a meal for 100 people using only food destined for the garbage from food retailers and growers. We demand perfection in our food and, truth to tell, it’s Food Network that has to assume some of the responsibility for that attitude. Chefs use only the best foods making esoteric dishes that make your mouth water. They make us all want to be better cooks by seeking perfect foods to make restaurant quality meals to feed our family.
That isn’t a bad thing, but when carried too far, we all lose. Even the chef’s demands can be eased to use foods that may not be pretty, but have so much flavor and so many uses. It was probably the most illuminating program that has been on the “boob tube” for years and, yet, repulsive showing that we have become a nation demanding only the best letting any imperfect item fall as trash. This is all too true when it comes to food.
The statistics are grim with 40% of the food grown in America going to waste; 200 pounds of food per person in the United States is trashed equaling about 27 million tons of edible food disposed of each year. This food isn’t rotten or contaminated, it is merely disfigured in some way or is near its sell-by date. According to the Food and Drug Administration’s web site(http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Food_Product_Dating/index.asp), “food product dating is to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. It can also help the purchaser to know the time limit to purchase or use the product at its best quality. It is not a safety date.”
Growers can expect to have forty to fifty percent waste for their crops if they are selling it to retail stores or public markets. One farmer who had a u-pick fields of corn had one portion that was knocked flat by hurricane winds. No one would pick that corn because obviously something was wrong with it which meant it would go to waste. Five billion–yes, that is billion–eggs are trashed each year because they are the wrong size or color. Contrary to popular opinion, chickens don’t always lay an egg that meets the criteria established by retailers. Some are too small, others too big, some are blue, and if the yolk or white has broken down, it is trashed. All eggs must pass inspection and fit in the cartons to make it to market.
In 1986 in Jackson, MS, a volunteer organization gleans food from as many resources as possible locally and gives the food to local food banks. Other gleaner cells have been established in the United States, but, truthfully, there’s room for more. Working together we can slow this waste of our good resources and we need to do it.