As I prepared my dinner last night, picking off and throwing away each end of my string beans, I began to think about the journey my food has taken. From their life on a sunny farm, the expedition they took across the country, to the cold refidgeration of my local Market Basket, and alas, into my kitchen. These undesirable bits of food will soon end their journey in a landfill several miles away, where they will undergo decomposition in unfriendly white and black trash bags, which will inevitably trap their noxious gases that, someday, I will breathe in. Ah, the circle of life.
Food takes second place in landfill materials and is the leader in methane gas production, as it becomes trapped in plastic, unable to decompose naturally. According to endfoodwastenow.org, approximately 33 million tons of food annually enters a landfill in the United States. Globally, it’s around 1.3 billion.
Aside from the small side effect of methane gas advancing rapid climate change and poisoning our drinking water, there are several other major ethical and environmental implications of food waste. According to this article published by NPR, when we throw away that much food, we are throwing away 45 trillion tons of water globally every year as well, in a time when 783 million people around the world lack access to potable water and 795 million people do not have enough to eat.
“Tossing an apple is like pouring 25 gallons of water down the drain, and the average American does this 17 times a day,” Divya Abhat, Smithsonian Magazine.
This is unconconsionable as a solitary fact. It is even more disheartening when compounded by the fact that environmental degridation disproportionately affects those who are already the world’s most disadvantaged: the homeless, the food insecure, the mentally ill and disabled, women, people of color, and people residing in developing countries.
Most food is lost long before it reaches the shelves of your supermarket or your refridgerator. In fact, 6 billion pounds of fresh produce do not leave the fields of their farms at all and are left to rot. The main reason for this is the aesthetic that nearly all grocery stores prefer. In other words, a grocery store will refuse to stock perfectly healthy and edible produce if it does not fit their standard of perfection. Who knew that fruit and vegetables had to live up to the same unrealistic expectations as humans?
A movement currently gaining momentum works under the moniker of “Ugly Food.” Participating groups and organizations glean food from farms that has been deamed unfit for supermarkets and sell it at drastically reduced prices. Organizations like Imperfect Produce are changing the way we view and purchase food by valuing nutritional value over small cosmetic imperfections.
Another simple way to reduce food waste is composting. Composting allows organic waste to decompose naturally, allowing gases and chemicals that have the potential to harm the environment and human health to dissipate. Produce, meat and bone, coffee grounds, tea bags, dairy products, and paper products are all compostable. Compost can then be used as top soil in gardens, allowing us to stop using chemical fertilizers with toxic groundwater run-off. Bread & Roses is currently taking on a composting initiative in partnership with Roots Compost to reduce our carbon footprint and bring a little more food justice into our community.
For more information about food waste and possible alternatives, check out the video below.