Friday, November 30, 2012

Critical Mass

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” 
― Mahatma Gandhi

Most of us have issues we would like to work on when we are not all caught up in getting through the day and convenience is king. We put them in a back burner to address it some day in the future. Some day when we find the time and energy to craft good solutions for it. Unfortunately, the number of burners in my back row is growing and none of them ever really move up to the front. But sometimes, as it happens with such things, once in a while, one of those issues reaches critical mass and then ...your focus shifts. You are pounded with a barrage of information that serves as reminders wherever you turn - a news segment, a sound byte, an essay, a conversation over dinner....

What surfaced up from the deep dark recesses of my mind is not something I am proud of. It is to do with how wasteful I am with produce in the kitchen. Perfectly good produce. I load up on vegetables, fruits and dairy for the week. And some weeks, it is all good when most of these get used up right away. But as I am writing this post, there are two bags of grapes, six plums, a couple of apples, oranges, a pear, two packets of herbs, slabs of cheese, a packet of baby carrots and a carton of milk that have been festering as fodder for a petri dish.

I buy these with the best of intentions. I stock up on fruits so I don’t ever run out of them. But for some reason or another, they never make it to the table. This despite all of us being fruit lovers in the family. So I must be buying more than we need or maybe we are not eating enough of them. Whatever it is, it ends up in the compost bin.

There are so many ways that food is wasted in this country and elsewhere. It happens every day and in huge amounts. Not to shift the blame onto someone else, but it seems that supermarkets and restaurants are two of the biggest transgressors. There was a story in the news about how one of the restaurants had hired a consulting company to evaluate how much waste they produce. But the whole exercise was viewed as an encumbrance. It was interrupting the kitchen’s workflow and the already overworked employees could not find the time for it. As it affected only about 2% of the cost, reducing food waste is not really a priority for restaurants.

So how about supermarkets and grocery stores? I assumed that they would have gotten better at planning and stocking to reduce the produce that ends up in the dumpster everyday. After all it is a percentage of their cost that they can do away with. But it doesn't appear to be so. It was an eyeopener for me to find out that there are people who have, for years, salvaged perfectly good produce that supermarkets throw in the dumpster. There are even freegan (I know, I had never heard of it either) websites that tell you where to go dumpster diving to get the best stuff.

Then there is wastefulness buried in regulation and bureaucracy. It is mind boggling to read how complicated it is to store and distribute food in this global market. And the most sacrilegious of all is to use food as a means of protest, and I am not talking about hunger strikes here. The European farmers protest in Brussels might be a valid fight for the farmers, but the way they went about it is, in my opinion, irresponsible. All this wastefulness is even more horrifying when considering the number of people who go hungry.

Of course there are people and organizations that try to tackle the problem. We are all reminded to be mindful consumers. Businesses are encouraged to donate leftover food to charity. There are tonnes of resources to educate ourselves on the imbalance of abundance and scarcity in the world.

To me, all of this information brings into focus the glaring ways I am wasteful at home. I don’t have any grand ideas for solving world hunger. Neither do I have any intelligent arguments on how to weave through the complexities of the global food crisis. But I do know that I should be grateful for the abundance around me. And to be conscious of the fact that what I throw away could have nourished someone starving.

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