December 20, 2007

Trying not to waste

Everyone has some memory of a parent saying, "Finish your food... there are children starving in [insert country]." Now that we're full steam into the holiday season and relatively recovered from the gluttony of Thanksgiving, we're about to enter a time where the abundance of the developed world stands in stark and shocking contrast to the needs of the impoverished.

Americans tend to have some pretty wasteful habits. Here are some interesting (and appalling) facts:
  • A mere 5 percent of American's leftovers could feed 4 million people for 1 day
  • Disposing of food waste costs the U.S. $1 billion a year
  • Rotting food releases methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2
Remarkably, the U.N. World Food Programme says the total surplus of the U.S. alone could satisfy "every empty stomach" in Africa. Crazy, huh? But the U.S. isn't the only offender. The U.K. and Japan are among the worst with food waste, tossing out 30 to 40 percent of their food produce. With the kind of hunger and malnutrition that exists in the world, waste of this magnitude is a real moral issue, and each of us has a part to contribute.

I'm reminded of how important it is to shop wisely and plan meals and portion sizes accordingly. In addition to tossing out as little as possible, it's also imperative that we consider (1) how much food and (2) what kinds of foods we actually need to eat. Instead of eating until we're full, why not just eat until we're satisfied? Rather than eating meals dominated by animal protein, why not shift more emphasis to grains, fruits and vegetables to reduce the environmental impact of our meals? We live in a situation where we have the luxury of making these kinds of decisions; but too often, we make food choices that emphasize our own selfish pleasure rather than an ethos of responsibility and moral authority.

So Lav and I have been spending the past two days trying to eat everything in our refrigerator before we head back to the Bay Area for Christmas so our food doesn't go to waste. We had an interesting set of ingredients which ultimately combined into some wonderfully satisfying, simple dishes:

Roasted beet and orange salad with baby arugula and chevre.

Somen noodles with basic broth of chicken and vegetables.

Roasted asparagus and bell pepper with chevre.

In the grand scheme of things, it's a miniscule gesture... but it's a start.

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