Owning up to food waste

by Danielle Del Vicario

“Finish your dinner. Don’t you know children in Africa are starving?”

The first time someone accosted me with this time-honoured Western mantra, I was baffled by its complete illogic. What difference would it make to a kid in Africa whether or not I finished my vegetables? After all, she wasn’t getting my leftovers.

I know we should be grateful for the food and lifestyle we have, but raising kids thinking this is why food waste is bad really bothers me. Food waste is as much a local problem as a global one. We shouldn’t have to make reference to another continent to make it relevant.

carrot-kale-walnuts-tomatoes

My personal owning up to food waste has been a slow process. When I was about fifteen, I started pestering my parents to compost, but my mom refused, saying it would smell and attract rodents. I sulked for a day or two and then let the issue go.

I later watched a documentary at school called The Clean Bin Project, in which a Vancouver couple try to live producing zero waste. I came home ready to tackle food waste: stop using plastic, bring my travel mug wherever I went—the whole shebang. (Though neither of us knew it, the plastic-free element in particular planted itself in mom’s mind and two years later she started championing it.) Leaving for university, I saw myself as a green-eating saint, but my food waste journey had only just begun.

The summer after my freshman year, I decided to eat only local food. I became a regular at every market and farm, buying crooked carrots and keeping the stems to make my own stock, getting discounted berries to make smoothies and carefully planning to make sure I had enough food to make it to the next market day. Pretty soon, grocery stores made me uneasy. All those perfectly straight vegetables and round fruits…what had happened to nature’s twisted, lumpy creations? Where was the two-legged carrot that I could give a voice for my six-year-old niece? And the zucchini so big it could have been a watermelon?

Ten months later, I had a final poignant epiphany when helping run a new volunteer organization at my college. We had a project where students collected leftover produce from local sellers to cook for the homeless and vulnerable. We were gifted with squishy mushrooms, wilted cabbage and moulding berries. These were all things that at home I would throw in the compost with a pat on the back and no second glance. But now since that revelation I sort through rotten vegetables with a passion, salvaging whatever possible and embracing the adrenaline rush of this strange invention test.

Avoiding food waste takes effort and no one (myself included) wants to deal with those beginnings of blue fuzz sitting in the fridge. Unsure where to start? Follow these three guidelines and most importantly stop talking about starving kids in Africa:

1. Buy from local farmers.
2. Find creative ways to use foods that are “almost off”.
3. Reduce portion sizes so less ends up in the garbage—you can always go back for seconds and thirds!