waste not, want not

Food waste is rampant in the developed, rich nations of the United States and Western Europe, driven by overwhelming consumption demands on all levels of the supply chain

Farmers are forced to throw out produce that is not up to supermarket’s aesthetic standards and plough under whole fields of ripe produce if market prices aren’t sufficient to cover labour expenses.  Produce farmers will often plant a secondary field in case the yields are not as high as expected.  If yield requirements are met sufficiently with the primary field, the secondary field is simply ploughed under.

Manufacturers dump whole pallets of food when supermarkets decline a purchase. Supermarkets throw out shelves of food when they’ve passed “best use by” dates, even though the food is still perfectly safe for consumption.  In 1995, the USDA found that 5.4 billion pounds of food were thrown out by retailers.

Finally, consumers in the developed world notoriously throw out tons of unconsumed food they let rot – approximately 210-255 lbs per person.  Food is viewed as an endless luxury to those who can afford it.

When I was growing up we wasted very little. I think in many ways this was due to the many ways my parents had been raised to reduce waste and their strong connection to agriculture. That connection to agriculture has remained in our family due to my brother being a farmer, and Mr FD being an agronomist. Agriculture is part of our everyday lived experience.

However for many people this is not the case. A friend recently mentioned that she had never actually seen a celery plant growing, and that is a very common experience for many people living in so called “developed” countries. We have lost our connection to agriculture and the central place it plays in our lives.

Too often we are selling our farms to global interests and will only realise too late that the food passing our front door is not going to our markets, but to feed a distant population who has, rather than choose to reduce their wants and wastage, to simply buy their way out of their problems, rather than seek sustainable solutions.

So, what can the “little” person do? Reduce wastage for a start. If one third of what we buy is going into waste, and not even a compost bin, but to land fill, just think of what we can achieve by using every last gram or ounce of what we bring into our home, or grow in our gardens?

We all joke about incubating the cure for cancer in our refrigerators, well, how about taking 10 minutes and actually looking at what is hiding in your fridge and taking a moment to think about using up that food? Ok, maybe it won’t be a restaurant level meal, but let’s admit it, few of us achieve that with every meal we make, do we? Left over vegetables can be thrown in a quiche, or made into hash browns. I can remember my Mum cutting up small amounts of left over roast, and adding egg, onions and whatever else she had in the fridge as a fry up on a Sunday night. We loved it too! I made left over shepherd’s pie into toasted sandwiches frequently when my children were young.

Simple things are often the best is not a phrase that has slipped into our culture without reason. It is true. Simple ways of taking on big issues are often the best. No big radical changes, or hard life style impacts, just a little thought using the things we already have.

An added benefit is that you may very well save a third of your food budget too. No small dollar number for families that one! Maybe you can reward yourself with a massage with the extra money, or a family holiday over a year or eighteen months!

Remember – waste not, want not, maybe an oldie, but a goldie!

[this post also appears here ]

13 thoughts on “waste not, want not

  1. While I have never seen celery growing in it’s native environment, I did come from a “grow your own family” Each year, my Mom insanely grew sweet corn in our backyard. I had to shuck it all.
    that plus tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, lettuce and herbs were all part of our diet.

    I wish I could do that now, but the way my apartment is, there is no way to let any bees fertilize things… Bah!

    It does amaze me though, I got Chinese take out the other day. Huge portions. I’ve had it three times now and still there is no stopping that Moo-shu Chicken. I’ll be eating it til next week though because after all, I bought it.


    • Maybe you could grow some herbs on a window sill? Or some lettuce? I grow lettuce in containers all the time.
      I have heard about American portions being generous. Our very up market restaurants are the opposite. A large plate with one broccoli flowertte, a teaspoon of mashed potato, and a cube of pumpkin with a sliver of meat for a price that would feed an average family for a week!
      I love chinese food and would eat it all week, though perhaps not the same dish!


  2. Oh dear, don’t get me started on this issue FD……perhaps you watched the Landline program on ABC TV yesterday…..it was thoroughly depressing to note the amount of food wastage, and predictions of unaffordable food and a worldwide famine if we don’t change our behaviour.
    I’ve long ranted away on my blog about the way farmers are treated and screwed by supermarkets. Twenty years ago we grew sweet potatoes for the wholesale markets. Cost of 20kg carton $3, cost of freight $3 per carton and we were paid a grand total of $10.
    Here we are 20 years later and farmers are still being paid around $10 per carton. No wonder there are no smallholder farmers any more.
    I’m leaving now FD, before I get really angry. 🙂


    • Yes, we watched the Landline programme. Mr FD a couple of months ago wrote to one of the UQ people interviewed stating many of the things cited in the program and got no response. Mr FD has long fought with the industry to take the path that they are suddenly all realising is desperate, but they were so wrapped up in their own agendas, protecting their own careers over the industry, that they shut him out. Like the live cattle export issue – it has been known for years in the industry, but the meat industry and the farmers, but they chose to ignore it. There has been a long agenda to shut down agriculture in Australian for the last two decades at least. Australians would be surprised if they knew how many Australian agriculture companies were controlled by foreign companies – many of them from New Zealand!


      • I notice that once again Dick Smith has the courage to speak out on the foreign ownership of our food supply, and increasingly selling off our productive land to overseas interests. Australia is going to regret it…maybe sooner rather than later.


    • My parents were the same, and they both came from large families (Dad was one of 18 children!) so they knew the value of everything. In my Mum’s case it has made her a bit of a hoarder, which frustrates us a little! But we did use everything that came our way.


  3. A bigger issue right now if rising cost of food especially in Africa and Middle East. The release of oil stocks recently to drop the barrel price is linked to this as has been the riots in north Africa. In today’s Australian, it was reported that more is spent on agricultural subsidies than on international aid. While many point to over-population as the cause of all this – it is worth re-stating that the current issue is distribution rather than production. Therefore governance, not technical problems of production. Mr FD and others have a few more tricks up their sleeves to boost production, although there has to be a theoretical maximum to all this. I, too, hate throwing things out of the fridge. While I do try and grow some of more own food, I have to report I’ve got the best fed grubs, snails, etc in the neighbourhood.


  4. Food prices shouldn’t be that high in those countries, but the corruption and violence in those societies are causing issues. We just tried to export some seed to Vietnam and the govt issues were surprising. Same for the Middle East -they do themselves no good due to their own corruption and dysfunctional systems and laws. .


  5. I’ve never seen a celery plant growing. Now I feel like a peasant…

    When I was small my parents were dirt poor because my dad was nurse training and we lived off mum’s salary. This meant that as I grew up I learned all sorts of ways to use up leftovers. My special favourite is bubble and squeak, where you take the leftover veg from the Sunday dinner and fry them up till they’re brown and a bit crispy. You serve them with the leftover cold cuts and either leftover gravy or if there isn’t any, pickles. In fact we always used to make my dad make extra veg for christmas dinner so we could have bubble and squeak on boxing day! Virtually anything can be cooked up with rice and chicken stock to make a form of risotto. My only bad waste area is fruit because I’m not a dessert person although I often turn browning bananas into smoothies with a can of peaches. I really hate wasting food, putting food in the bin grates along every nerve I have and goes against my upbringing, The supermarkets need to work to stop this obsession with perfect looking produce. Ever since I started getting my stuff delivered by a company that collects produce from local farmers and sends it out, I’ve discovered a world of amusingly shaped veg, delicious stuff with blotches and splotches and even, gasp, veg with DIRT on it. Imagine! And it’s all delicious.


    • Since our floods I have noticed that the vegetables in our supermarkets are not quite so perfect anymore. We have had to lower standards until supply returns to normal. I think there is also a little bit of a smoke screen by the supermarkets as they try and appear more organic by allowing not quite perfect vegetables to be sold, but with no drop in price, less use of chemicals.
      We have a compost bin, so what does go out at least returns to the earth… one small salve to my conscience!


  6. I am not quite sure what supermarkets standards are today actually. As long as it looks good while we store it for a the days it’s in the shop?
    In general I feel that the quality of fresh produce has decreased enormously in the recent decade. I am horrified of what I have to through out within 2-3 day after purchasing, because it’s just no longer eatable.


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