Friday, June 26, 2015

Food Waste

Building on the idea from last week about some people’s false belief that you shouldn’t eat what you can’t pronounce, another problem is that often people refuse to eat some things they can easily pronounce only because it is not pretty enough.  This is a great example of how lack of perspective causes Americans (and many others) to let the superficial outweigh the substantive aspects of so many decisions.

In early 2013, but not for the first time, CBS featured a story about how almost half of the food grown worldwide ends up plowed back under or thrown away.  The reasons cited for this enormous waste were “inadequate infrastructure as well as irresponsible retailer and consumer behavior.”  The infrastructure problems especially in the area of delivery and spoilage were more common in less developed countries, but “countries like Britain and the United States have relatively efficient farming methods, so the majority of waste occurs on the consumer's end.”

The PBS News Hour followed up last week with this video report that began:  “Much of what is grown on American farms never makes it to market.”  It seems there is plenty of produce going to the landfill because of price fluctuations (driven by supply and demand) but also based on a grading system looking at expected and acceptable appearance.  Almost 40% of food is lost all along the supply chain, but a substantial amount never makes it to market at all.  Food that is equally nutritious is not sent to the stores because it is off-color, slightly the wrong shape or the wrong size.  Instead it is plowed under or is trucked to a landfill after final inspection.  For example, peaches have different levels of appearance standards:  some only acceptable to the premium markets, a second tier sent to less fussy retailers and the rest thrown out.

With these farm rejects, the grocery store leftovers and disposal from our kitchens and restaurants, food is the largest category of material found in landfills.  There it rots, producing methane gas.

Now a few farmers in California have a program to donate it to the local food banks to reduce the waste.  Participation is limited but growing, aided by some states' tax breaks to farmers who donate.  In other parts of the US, creative entrepreneurs follow a model from France where they sell “ugly” fruits and vegetables for less.  “A new grocery store in Boston is on a mission to solve two problems: preventing tons of food from going to waste and offering healthy alternatives to families who might not be able to afford traditional stores” by promoting the unattractive produce at a bargain price.  This seems to be a growing trend, though regular grocers, even some that advertise themselves as “green” and “natural,” continue to apply unnecessarily fussy standards that reflect the preferences of their customers.

Bottom line is that waste is bad.  When any part of that waste can be traced to unreasonable behaviors, like rejecting healthy food because it is not exactly the right size, shape or color, it tells of a weakness in the dimensions of perspective and critical thinking.  It is understood that strengthening behaviors in one aspect of a dimension can often overlap into improving other behavior in the same dimension.  Perhaps that means that losing our prejudice about the color and shape of foods will result in applying the same standards and behavior, of valuing what’s inside instead of rejecting based on appearance, in the area of our interpersonal relationships as well.  That’s something to hope for.

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