2016-06-10 / Community

Sustainable SoPo

Food. Waste. Consider it.

Food. We all eat food. In fact, our very lives depend on this stuff. Have you ever wondered what goes into producing this food? How about wasted food? It’s a sure bet that most of us are hardly aware of how much perfectly good food we toss. Let’s not forget to mention how much energy goes into creating food. You home gardeners know. Don’t feel bad if you don’t grow any food, it’s a lot of time consuming and dirty work. We should at least take the time to realize the impact we have on food, the energy it takes to produce it and the impacts of food … wasted.

Consider this. Maine comes in at 12th place in the nation for food insecurity. That’s just over a whopping 200,000 of our neighbors and friends who are hungry. We’re also first in New England, by the way. Statistics show that we chuck about 135 billion pounds of perfectly edible food per year in the U.S. That’s roughly one third or 33 percent of the total food produced. The estimated annual cost of wasted food in the U.S. is just over $160 billion. Ouch. Can we hear our parents a little louder? “Clear your plates!” or “If you take it, you eat it.” Let’s not forget how hard we work just to feed ourselves.

How about the impact on our environment? Fifty percent of the land in the U.S. is used for agricultural purposes. The agricultural industry also soaks up 80 percent of the fresh water and 10 percent of the total energy we consume as a nation. Do you feel OK about throwing away these resources? Mom and Dad were on to something, “Who left this light on?” or “That’s a long enough shower!” Food waste is also the largest single item that is hummed into landfills at 40 percent of landfill waste. Food breakdown in landfills also emits methane gas, which is 40 times more heat trapping than CO2.

Start by examining your refrigerator. Are you over packing that thing and dumping food that went bum? There are a number of things we can do to help stop this problem. You’re on your way to being part of the solution. Take a look at these helpful and difference making points:

 Buy only what you need to eat. Many of us will hoard food to feel adequate and secure, only to pitch the crisper a week later to make room for more.

 Plan your meals. Meal planning is the best way to buy only what you need. If you know what you need, you’ll spend less time and money at the grocery store.

 Ask (repeatedly) for culled or “imperfect” foods. Looks are not everything. There is nearly a one to one ratio of funny shaped or scarred fruits and vegetables to the pretty ones that make it to your grocer’s shelves. These “imperfect” foods are perfectly good for you and carry the same amount of nutrients.

 Buy local. Visit your nearest farmer’s market for the freshest, purest, and most nutrient dense foods you can find. Not to mention, there is little energy consumed in transporting these foods as they come from right next door. Plus, we’re keeping our money where our mouth is, literally … and figuratively.

 Expiration dates. There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding “sell by” and “best by” dates on food packaging. Most packaging dates are actually to dictate to a grocer when to turn over stock and put new product on their shelves. Best advice, smell it. If it smells bad, it is bad.

 Gleaning. What is gleaning? Gleaning is the practice of digging and searching through a farmer’s field to rescue any remaining food that was left behind from the harvest, and you keep the food.

 Donate. If you end up with any unused food items that are still fit to eat, but you’re not going to, find a food shelter that will.

 Eat leftovers. Eat your leftovers.

 Freeze foods. Freezing foods is a great way to keep fresh and natural foods for extended periods of time. You can enjoy many out of season foods and prepared meals in your freezer.

There are many ways we can all contribute to the health of ourselves, our neighbors and our planet. The most important factor is our very own mindset. We can choose to believe that we are not part of the problem or we can prove that we’re part of the solution. Collectively we can get our friends fed, feed our own economy, nourish our own bodies, and dramatically reduce our impact on this earth. Consider it.

The South Portland Energy and Recycling Committee meets the third Wednesday of each month at the South Portland Community Center. Meetings start at 6:30 p.m. and are open to the public.

Return to top