November 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
J: We are presently entering what is, at least in the United States, the most food-heavy time of the year. Because of this, I think it is appropriate to get on my soapbox a little bit and try to make everyone more conscious of certain inclinations we have as shoppers. Specifically, I’m referring to wasteful cooking and wasteful food purchasing. Don’t go navigating away yet, thinking that you are not wasteful and not to blame — it is a bigger problem than you might realize.
I have long been aware of a tendency in American consumers (and probably some other cultures, though I’ve had most occasion to observe Americans) to be extremely picky about the food we buy and use. I myself am guilty of this, and I often spend a few minutes pawing through the produce bins looking for the prettiest and least-bruised pepper, tomato, etc. However, I recently stumbled on a show called “The Big Waste” on the Food Network, and it astonished me how many tons of food are wasted every year in this country. Bakeries, restaurants, butchers, farms, and supermarkets literally just throw away foods that they know they will not be able to sell: bruised tomatoes, corn from stalks that have been broken, chickens with bones that were broken in processing, flour that can only be used in certain pastries… the list goes on. This food is not diseased, expired, or otherwise inedible; in many cases, it is simply not aesthetically pleasing. The trend here is stunning.
This show mentioned a group of people called “freegans,” whom I hadn’t heard of before. They essentially go dumpster-diving for food, and while that may sound disgusting to many people, it is nigh unbelievable how much perfectly edible and tasty food they can find. Although I am not quite willing to do that for my food, I propose a more minor lifestyle change. Next time you are at a grocery store, consciously choose some produce that is not perfect — maybe a slightly bruised apple, or snow peas with some discoloration. Recognize that if you go to a good-quality grocery store, they probably err on the side of extreme safety, and will throw out food that is even remotely unsafe. Those marks are not going to hurt you, and once your produce is cut up and cooked, you will not even be able to taste a difference. And if you are really uncomfortable with cooking produce with blemishes, you can use a small paring knife or vegetable peeler to do some localized surgery and remove the blemishes yourself — most of them are only skin deep. This wastes so much less food than discarding an entire item because of a few marks.
It will probably not make a difference in the long run, but even if it only results in less food being thrown out from your particular supermarket at the end of the day, that’s something, and we could all use a little less wastefulness, especially at this time of year.