I am about to place my plate in the sink, until I see a single pea left on my plate. I recall a recent article in National Geographic that stated that one-third of all the food we produce is wasted.
I have a Zen moment, and think of the journey the pea made to reach my plate. A farmer in California sowed the seeds six months earlier. A farm worker harvested the pea pod a month ago, a factory worker cleaned it and produced frozen packages. A truck driver hauled it to my grocery store; I purchased it and brought it home. My wife prepared it into a delicious Thai meal with curry sauce an hour ago, and my son served it on our plates. And now it was being wasted.
One of every three peas, one of every three glasses of milk, one of every three pieces of bread does not make it to the market, the plate or the mouth. It is wasted.
Globally, we waste 2.9 trillion pounds of food each year, enough to feed twice over the 800 million suffering from hunger.
The irony is that even in the United States, 1-in-7 people have food insecurity, meaning they do not know where their next meal will come from, yet we continue to waste.
There was a time when food was in short supply and famines were common. During the Irish potato famine of the mid-1850s, 1 million people died and another million emigrated from Ireland when disease made the crop inedible. And now we discard food because a salad may not look good on the plate, or some bananas are too short or tall to sell on the market.
So where is the food wasted?
Some 20 percent is lost during picking and sorting. Think of the last time you went apple or strawberry picking and chucked away a bruised strawberry in the field.
The next major loss is at our local supermarkets, where nearly 10 percent is discarded because it does not maintain freshness or shelf life. Meals prepared at the grocery stores use this food and reduce waste. And then another 20 percent of food is left uneaten on our plates like the single pea that made its 6-month, 6,000-mile journey to nourish me but was about to be wasted.
There are ways we can practice “food rescue” First we must stop waste. Purchase, prepare and place on our plate only the amount of food that we will eat.
We can save leftovers. My wife has a running joke. For our home meals some days we eat Indian (chappati with potatoes), some days Italian (pasta or eggplant parmesan) and some days Mexican (tacos or enchiladas). One day of the week, we have “French,” yet there is nothing cooked. It’s “Déjà vu day” she says.
Avoiding waste is a message passed down over millennia. Jesus said in John 6:12, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”
It’s difficult to watch food trays piled with food being dumped at school cafeterias, where 40 percent of school lunch food is wasted, or at “all you can eat” restaurants. The simple act of not taking a tray and just picking up a plate can reduce waste by 30 percent. I do this at lunch and find I eat less also.
There is much we can do to reduce waste when we shop. We need to shop often and buy locally grown foods. At the restaurant, we can tell the waiter to hold the bread or butter if we will not eat it. At home, we can use smaller dishes. Over the past 50 years our plate size has increased by a third, parallel to our waste lines.
And as a community we can make a huge impact. Schools, workplaces and restaurants can take part in food rescue projects. Even the U.S. Environment Protection Agency has a food donation program.
As for the pea, its journey was not wasted. I picked it off my plate and savored it and thanked it for making the journey and nourishing me. I felt a sense of gratitude for doing my part to reduce food waste.
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