Thursday, October 4, 2012


I've always been a frugal creature; not one to waste unnecessarily, and a bit of a pack rat when it comes to anything I perceive as potentially having a little life left in it. It's a blessing and a curse, really, in terms of the oddments and "junk" that I stockpile save. It is a relatively small percentage of the time that I end up doing anything with those spare buttons that come with my husband's work shirts, as he usually manages to wear the shirts out well before the buttons can go missing, but, even still, I can't just throw them away. I just... can't.

So I'm the first to admit that there can be too much of a good thing in terms of saving stuff. The HUGE exception to that rule in my book is food. There is always a body - be it human, chicken, ruminant, insect or microbe - that could use up that food's energy to a productive end and, in many cases, also produce a useful by-product (eggs, milk, compost, penicillin) besides. Therefore it pains me when I see any food irretrievably wasted.

To clarify exactly what I mean by irretrievably wasted, I'd define it like this - Useful potential energy that is irresponsibly cast off in such a way that renders it permanently unavailable for use by another living thing. Humans are the only ones who make waste like this.

If your family doesn't finish their dinner, saving the leftovers, composting them or sharing the food with critters would all be viable non-waste alternatives for taking advantage of the potential energy that is the raison d'etre, the very definition of food, and therefore a reasonable use of the food's energetic potential. Really, just about anything besides entombing it in non-biodegradable packaging and burying it 50 feet deep under thousands of tons of other trash, making it totally impossible to ever degrade, would be a reasonable use of the food energy. It's actually pretty easy to do.

Even so, it isn't unheard of to read tales of gross mismanagement of perfectly edible produce, as detailed in this story about an "unauthorized" public garden that was needlessly destroyed days before being harvested. As if that weren't tragedy enough, the ruined crops were then taken to a landfill and disposed of. I mean... why?

Irretrievable waste is hands-down the most complete waste of food, but there are others, though much less egregious, that still get under my skin. 

A major frustration that I'm experiencing a lot lately has to do with unharvested fruit trees. Washington state is known the world over for it's amazing apples. They grow almost effortlessly here, which is no doubt part of the reason that they are nearly as ubiquitous in our neighborhoods, parks and woodlands as the Douglas Fir is. But maybe having affordable, world-class apples available at the supermarket year-round has caused us to overlook the miracle of free food growing in our own front yards?

In Autumn, you can't help but notice all of the beautiful apples, pears, walnuts and hazelnuts hanging heavy in the trees, begging to be picked. And yet a vast majority of the time, the fruit will be left to drop and rot, perfect fodder for squirrels, yellow jackets and hungry deer, but seen as somehow less than their shiny supermarket counterparts, and therefore unfit and unworthy of human consumption. Have we lost our minds?

Yet another article (I've been reading a lot...) discusses just how much food we Americans waste on account of our acquired snobbiness and our reckless there's always more where that came from attitude. To illustrate just how insanely, ridiculously picky we've become as food shoppers, the article offers this bit of advice to producers and retailers for taking better advantage of "imperfect" produce -

Companies should look for alternatives in their supply chain, such as making so-called baby carrots out of carrots too bent to be sold whole at the retail level.

*Shakes Head* This is for real. People are going without and we're splitting hairs over carrot presentability. Phase two of my emotional reaction to this article (after weeping interspersed with multiple face-palms) was anger. I'm pissed, and that makes me loud, especially when it comes to things I feel passionately about. Taking care of people is one of those things.

I am only one person, but I am 100% responsible for choosing the food eaten by 4 people, 2 dogs, 20 chickens, 9 goats, 2 bunnies, 2 parakeets and one sassy turtle, therefore, my resolve to use food responsibly and with thanks has an impact that should not be, and indeed, is not taken lightly. I can participate in the system that keeps these problems going, or I can refuse, and take care of my family and farm on terms that both my head and my heart can live with.

Therefore, I resolve to grow, buy and use food even more responsibly than I have. I will buy less, grow and forage more, preserve more and use the food we do buy, find and grow as fully as can be done, and with all the respect it deserves.

Please join me.

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