Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Old Adage: Waste Not, Want Not

What happened to that being the norm in the USA? No really, we didn't used to be a country of rampant consumption, in fact it used to be that the government was big into saving, food efficiency, and similar practices. Notice the notation at the bottom, "U.S. Food Administration." For those of you who don't know, as I didn't before doing a little research into it, The U.S. Food Administration was in charge of food and making sure there was enough during WWI. During WWII that was rolled in with other rationing and there wasn't a specific department for it, though most of the food rationing and propaganda came under the US Department of Agriculture. The poster Right in my mind embodies how we should be thinking, though I think use less corn would be an important addition today.

Sorry for having two GIGANTIC posters in a row, but I thought this one was also important. Unfortunately I don't have a higher resolution version of it that I have located to show you. Most of these I found on http://green-buzz.net/. I thought it was particularly interesting for a few pertinent facts on the sheet. First is "Household waste about 700 million dollars" right up near the top. That sounds like a lot, but let's look at it in today's money. $11,518,950,000
Ok, 11.5 Billion in today's dollars. That's a staggering amount of waste isn't it? Sounds like they had a big problem with food waste that they were worried about thus the posters. Unfortunately that is a minor figure compared to today's food waste numbers.
$ 165 Billion
You aren't reading that wrong, according to this report from the National Resources Defense Counsel  we waste more than ten times more food. Well, how many more people are we talking, that could make up for it right?

1940: 132,122,146
2012: 314,159,265

So right now we have 2.38 times the population that we did in 1940. That means we only waste about 7.17 times more food per person than we did 70 years ago. There is some inaccuracy in that number due to inexact numbers and not being able to find how much was lost in transportation and so on in the past. So let's be generous and say we only waste 5 times as much food as we did in the past.

That said, each family of four in the USA on average throws away %25 of their food, averaging $1,365 - $2,275 annually. That comes out to about the food budget of our entire household per year at the high end. Now, we are a two person household, but think about that. Each family of four wastes one to two people's worth of food per year without even considering over consumption.

There are easy ways to reduce this substantial waste level in food at the household level, and at the industrial and food service level. In the home, I think that the first step is looking at that first poster.

1: Buy it with thought
Think out what you are going to make, and buy a reasonable amount of it. Don't buy extra chicken because "Oh look it's on sale" when you aren't going to be able to safely and reasonably use it. Also have recipes planned so if you do find something on sale you know what you can do with it.
2: Cook it with care
This one is fairly obvious, but is unfortunately a very major concern these days. With how much people are eating out, and how little people get to eat at home many young people and young adults even don't know how to cook. Read the recipes, and learn how to cook, it isn't hard and there are directions on the internet.
2.5: Store it Wisely
This one wasn't on the poster but I feel is a good addition for today. The Lady of the House and I have been learning some of these lessons the hard way, but knowing how to store your food is important. Apparently according to the report, along with misunderstanding use by dates not knowing how to store food properly is a huge factor in how much waste there is. Know the expiration dates on food and use them before those dates, and store your fresh produce where it stays fresh longer and use it before it goes bad.
3: Use Less Wheat and Meat
As many modern food writers are starting to say, "Eat whole foods, mostly plants, not too much." There are whole discussions on the less meat statement, but suffice it to say it was good advice then, and is great advice now given how much meat we are eating and how much waste is associated with meat production. Treat meat as just that, a treat.
4: Buy Local Foods
When you think about transportation costs, this is a no brainer. Consider how much fuel it takes to transport food any distance. Now think about the fact that "fresh produce" from overseas has to be brought by airplane most of the time. The simple waste of food transportation results in huge costs environmentally, and financially. This is even before we start to consider the ethical problems of some of the most water poor nations exporting fruits and vegetables that are mostly water.
5: Serve Just Enough
This is a multi layer thing at this point. The size of the average dinner plate expanded by 36% between 1960 and 2007 according to the NRDC study I sited above, that you should read if you haven't already. I don't have portion size charts from the 1940s, or even the 60s. But in 20 years our portion sizes have skyrocketed, and as you can see in this CDC Study the bigger the portion in front of us, the more we eat. Serve smaller meals, it may pinch for a couple weeks, but you will find you don't Need all of that food.
6: Use What Is Left
Use your left overs, when you don't have enough for left overs or you aren't sure the food is still good, use the scraps. Compost them, feed the meat waste to your chickens if you have some.

You know what isn't in that chart? Encouraging you to use those scraps in your garden and to feed your chickens. You know why? Because it was normal at that point for every family to have a garden. In fact, it was considered patriotic and if you didn't have such a garden you would be looked at sideways.

Left is just one example of a Victory Garden poster. There were many, don't believe me search for it yourself, or you can look at the search results I got.

Below is a great image that I like because it echos the ideas that the Lady of the House and I have been kicking around. Make your yard productive in specific. The poster below encourages working a garden, raising chickens, and preserving what you can from your own garden.

 A term the Lady of the House has been using lately that I am stealing because it works so well is Yarden. Basically the concept is turning your yard into a garden, and it still being beautiful.

In the end, I guess this post is about wanting to bring the USA back around to the idea that food is precious, and using it properly is not only patriotic, but wise. Today I think it is actually a necessity as the population continues to skyrocket all over the world. Maybe we can't fix the world by gardening and having back yard chickens for more efficient use of food. Maybe we can't make it so everyone everywhere can eat by being ethical about our food, where it comes from, and how we treat it.What we can do is reduce waste, and give ourselves, the environment, and those around us a better chance.

And remember, Food will win the war.

1 comment:

  1. I think speaking with my great grandmother on the subject of food really hammers this home. She lived through the great depression, so she has a lot to say on the subject. Even after my great grandfather suffered from several handicaps he still gardened late into his eighties, and hunted wild mushrooms. My grandparents and parents on the other hand did not perform these skills. It's like we have a generation or two missing for many families when it comes to food procurement culture.