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Waste Not, Want Not

Barbara Bensoussan

American families reportedly waste close to 25 percent of the food they buy — combined, enough to fill up a football stadium every day. Farms and supermarkets might be even worse offenders, with acres of less-than-perfect food left to rot. What’s causing the problem? And how can we minimize the waste?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

throwing away food “Finish your potatoes and chicken, Shmuli,” Mommy says.

But Shmuli isn’t in the mood for chicken and potatoes tonight. They served chicken for lunch in yeshivah, and then he swiped too many cookies on the sly before supper. He plays around with his food, takes a couple of token bites, and pushes the plate away.

His ten-year-old sister Esti won’t even touch the chicken, announcing, “I don’t want to be fleishig.” Sixteen-year-old Malkie eats the chicken, but with the skin off, and refuses the potatoes because she’s on a diet. Dad comes home from work late, and mentions that he already ate at the office.

That night (much like other nights), several nearly full plates are thrown into the garbage, while the rest of the leftovers end up in plastic containers, buried in the recesses of the refrigerator, on the off chance somebody might be persuaded to eat them tomorrow. Three days later, Ima empties them into the garbage as well.

Sound familiar? According to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food, US families waste close to 25 percent of the food they buy — enough to fill up, every day, the Rose Bowl football stadium inPasadena. “As a nation, we grow and raise more than 590 billion pounds of food each year,” he reports. “And depending on who you ask, we squander between a quarter and a half of all the food produced.” If you imagine this in terms of money, he says, it’s the equivalent of every family flushing several thousand dollars down the toilet each year.

Food waste isn’t just the dinner your kids capriciously decided they weren’t in the mood to eat. It’s also the basil you bought for a new Shabbos dish that you never had time to make and then forgot about until it turned a slimy shade of brown. It’s the bottle of Coke or seltzer you opened and didn’t close tightly, that nobody wants to drink minus the fizz. It’s the nectarines you hoped the kids would eat while fresh that are now covered in soft spots and bruises.

Waste goes far beyond our individual household negligence or poor planning. Tremendous amounts of food are wasted at other levels on the food chain: on the farm, in grocery stores and restaurants, in schools, at simchahs. Wasted food means wasted money, but there are other consequences as well: all that food has to be carted off somewhere, which translates into garbage hauling charges and guzzled gas. Once disposed of in landfills, organic waste creates environmental hazards, as it releases methane and other greenhouse gases.

How did we get to this place, where we’re throwing a quarter of Hashem’s bounty into garbage pails every day? 


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