Pristine Produce, Wanton Waste

feeding 5,000 vancouver free lunches

There are three boxes sitting on my counter all brimming with fresh produce, much of which is organic. Persimmons, pears, apples, oranges, lemons, asparagus, mushrooms, mint, bell peppers, hot peppers, zucchini, potatoes, lettuces and more. I know the asparagus weighed in at over 2 pounds just by itself. All of the food was free. All of the food was going to be thrown away.

Let that sink in a moment.

Edible fruits and vegetables are thrown away everyday in grocery stores because they are imperfect, ripe or overripe. They may have a bruise or a small bad spot. They might be wilted slightly or less plump than at their peak. They might have wrinkled skin or minor blemishes. Their presentation somehow will make them unsaleable and will detract from the display.

Fruits and vegetables have to meet supermodel standards of beauty to be eaten.

Last year I grew gorgeously grotesque heirloom tomatoes. They were mutants in their own rite. Not a single matched pair could be found in the bunch and they were delicious. I ate them ripe too. Have you ever eaten a ripe tomato? I mean a really ripe tomato. An actual vine-ripened tomato, not those unripe, almost flavourless, red things they call tomatoes in the grocery store. There is a difference and I assure you I would take an imperfect and ugly tomato that tasted like a real ripe tomato because it IS a real, ripe, tomato, rather than the pretty knockoffs in the store any day.

I don’t want to buy produce grown only to the point they are still sturdy enough to survive transport. I also do not want to buy produce that is out of season or that earns more travel rewards than I do. Ecuador, Mexico, China and more. Our food items have become globetrotters.

More than buying local though, I want to raise awareness and take advantage of food that is going to be thrown out. That food represents more than one resource. There was time and energy and so much water needed to produce it. On top of that the food needed to be transported which requires more time and more energy to move it from one location to the next. Food needs to be manually and mechanically sorted and then transported again to what is hopefully the grocery store and not another stop on its long journey. Once in the store the the food will be sorted and culled if not visually perfect and appealing. The culled food will be wasted along with all the resources that went into its production. When you do finally bag up your purchased produce you will transport them to your home where there is a good chance that some of them will end up in your garbage can.

A few quick facts provided by David Suzuki

  • Close to half of all food produced worldwide is wasted — discarded in processing, transport, supermarkets and kitchens.
  • As much as 30 per cent of food, worth about $48 billion, is thrown away in the US each year. (The average household there throws out about 215 kilograms of food each year — around $600 dollars worth.)
  • In Toronto, single-family households discard about 275 kilos of food waste each year (although that city’s expanding composting program captures about 75 per cent of that). That means one in four food purchases still ends up in the garbage. (Toronto taxpayers spend nearly $10 million a year getting rid of food waste that’s not composted.)
  • Over 30 percent of fruits and vegetables in North America don’t even make it onto store shelves because they’re not pretty enough for picky consumers.
  • About 20 per cent of Canada’s methane emissions (a greenhouse gas that traps more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide) come from landfills.
  • When people toss food, all the resources to grow, ship and produce it get chucked, too, including massive volumes of water. In the US alone, the amount of water loss from food waste is like leaving the tap running and pouring 40 trillion litres of water down the drain.

The waste and harm does not end there. Organic matter that ends up in landfills do not properly compost but rather break down in a way that produces methane, a harmful greenhouse emission.

I want to make it clear that when I talk about rescued food, I am not suggesting dumpster diving in the back alley of the grocery store. If that is what you would like to do, more power to you. A great documentary on that is Just Eat It, A Food Waste Story. What I am talking about if intercepting the food before it goes into the dumpster. This can be accomplished one of two ways. You could ask an employee if they have any culled food or produce that they are tossing out that they would be willing to let you have or you could buy clearance or marked down items that the store offers that would end up getting tossed if they do not get purchased. (My parents scored me some discount eggnog for 30% off. It was still days off of its best before day and trust me it was delicious.) I am a fan of both ways of saving food, but free is always better!

Whatever you do, be it buying fresh, local, organic, imported or taking advantage of rescuing food by any means you choose, or even growing your own, please don’t waste food.



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