From the impression I give off here, you'd probably assume that I never, ever, ever toss out anything that is even remotely edible. This isn't quite true. I have all these ideas about how to potentially use up every last drop of foods including scraps, but I don't always bother. Banana peels and carrot peels and watermelon rinds will go into the trash here on a semi regular basis, as will food that tastes gross or sat out for too long. Yes, I do use these things here and there, but I can't say that I do it the majority of the time. (The reason it may appear otherwise on this blog is that I try to share ideas and my aspirations, even if I don't always live up to the goals I set for myself 100% of the time.)
A few days ago, my friend stopped by while I was in the middle of experimenting with a new way of preparing cactus paddles (nopalitos). I didn't care for this results, and instead of trying to salvage the bits remaining among the charred cactus paddle (note to self- burning the outer skin doesn't soften the fibers, better to just peel them and fry as usual), I tossed out the whole thing.
This astute friend made a comment that led me to introspect for some time. Her statement? "I bet that if you paid for that cactus paddle, you wouldn't have thrown it out quite so quickly."
She was right.
I do have much less of a problem tossing foraged foods than purchased foods.
This question troubled me for a while. Money is not everything, which is something I hope comes across via my writing. I care more about having a satisfactory life, regardless of the status of my bank account, than being rich with all the money to do what I would like to do, but no time or energy left to do so. Why then, does wasting foraged food (or food scraps, for that matter) not bother me to the same extent that wasting purchased food does?
In order to quell the voice in my head that was chastising me for my shallowness, I sought to figure out the difference between foraged (and salvaged) food and store bought food. To properly do this, I first had to figure out what it was about food waste that I considered to be so morally reprehensible?
What's wrong with food waste?In my opinion, the biggest problems with food waste stems from a lack of respect, appreciation, and empathy towards others.
"Starving kids in Africa". Which American mother didn't try to get her kids to finish their peas by reminding them "There are kids in Africa that are starving! Don't waste your food!"
While this reasoning is kind of silly (whether or not you finish everything on your place, those kids in Africa will still be starving), it does underlie one of the moral issues with wasting food.
We only need a certain amount of food. If we prepare or buy too much, it often goes to waste, but better management of our food would help us realize that we have excess (before it ends up gross and in the garbage) that can be donated, either to a food pantry, or even cooked up and given to a poor person who would otherwise go to bed hungry.
Food waste is immoral because if you have enough excess food that you're able to waste it, you should have managed it better and donated it to people less fortunate than yourself instead of tossing it in the trash.
Lack of appreciation for where the food came from.
Food doesn't just magically appear in our supermarket. Because of mass production and industrialization of the food industry, today we can just walk into our supermarket and pick up packages of ground meat, chicken breasts, steaks, peppers, tomatoes, pasta, pizza, and milk, without needing to give a second thought about how that food came about and all that was involved in getting it to the store. Even I, more aware than many, wouldn't know a lentil plant or a rice plant if it hit me in the face. There is such a disconnect between us and the food we eat.
Food doesn't come without a price.
Picture that bowl of Rice Crispies and milk. You filled it with more than you can eat; whatever you didn't finish, you dump down the drain. How did that serving of cereal come to be?
That rice was grown in Indonesia or some other country in the Eastern Hemisphere in rice patties, probably using oxen that needed to be fed grain (that was probably shipped from somewhere else) in order to have energy to work. Once the rice was harvested, it was shipped, either by boat or by airplane, to the Western Hemisphere to a processing plant. In the processing plant, the rice is mixed with malt which was made from barley, grown with fertilizers likely made from non renewable resources, water was pumped to irrigate it, shipped to a factory where they process the malt, packaged and then shipped to another factory where it was mixed with the rice and other ingredients to make Rice Crispies. Then plastic was made out of more non renewable resources and made into a plastic bag to hold the cereal, which would then go in a cardboard box, for which a tree needed to be cut down to provide the raw materials, and then shipped to the cardboard box manufacturer.
And then once the cereal is all prepackaged, it is shipped to a distributor, which then ships it to the store where you purchased it. Each leg of the shipping (from start to finish) used up gasoline, a non renewable resource, and contributed to pollution.
All for one bowl of cereal. And we didn't even touch the milk.
Every food that we buy in the store, especially processed food, has left footprints on the ecosystem.
I'm not saying that we shouldn't eat any of these things; though what locavores do is commendable, not everyone is cut out or that type of life. However, there should at least be an awareness of the environmental impact of what we eat. When we throw out food, we're in essence contributing to ruining the ecosystem for naught; we're not even benefiting from the food if it ends up in a landfill.
Throwing out perfectly good food shows a lack of awareness and respect for the environment.
When we waste animal products, when we don't use every last drop of a chicken or cow or hog that was slaughtered for the purpose of being eaten, we're showing a lack of respect for an animal's life. That animal died so that you could have your meat for supper; the least you could do is actually consume it all instead of throwing it out.
Because of my concern for other living beings, I'm especially concerned about wasting parts of an animal, and I will go to extra lengths to make sure I never throw out any meat. If you were that chicken, wouldn't you at least want to be eaten instead of going into a landfill?
No, I'm not just talking about wasting money because money is inherently special. Rather, lots of effort went into procuring that money with which you bought the food. Sacrifices were made. Less time was spent with family and loved ones. Time and energy was spent doing things you might not have desired to do in order to earn money to support yourself and your family.
To throw out food that was purchased with hard earned money shows a lack of appreciation for the effort exerted to earn that money.
Why these don't apply to foraged and salvaged food.
Foraging does not take a toll on the environment, so long as you follow specific foraging rules.
When food grew on its own in nature:
1) No precious water (especially in a country like mine where fresh water is scarce) was used to water these plants. Their only water came from dew and whatever rain happened to fall in that area.
2) No fertilizers made from non renewable resources were used on those plants. Only nature's very own plant booster- naturally ocurring compost.
3) No pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides were sprayed on the plants, contributing to pollution.
4) No polluting non renewable resources were used to transport the food to my home- only my own two feet.
5) No packaging was manufactured to transport the food to my home only to go into the garbage. Foraged food comes package free.
6) I live in a poor community. I've offered foraged food to many people, and offered to teach them how to forage. Most people are completely uninterested. They'd rather starve than "eat weeds". They'll even go as far as to tell me how what I'm feeding my family is unsanitary and unhealthy and try to convince me not to eat it.
So its not like the excess food that ends up getting wasted from foraged food could have been donated to people in need. They don't even want it!
7) No money was spent on these foods. No time was spent away from family to earn money to pay for these foraged foods. The time spent foraging was family time, spent together.
So no, the reasons why I feel wasting purchased food is immoral definitely do not apply to foraged foods.
I do try my best not to waste any foods, no matter where their source, but I am more vigilant about using up every last drop or normally eaten purchased food.
Sometimes my foraged food goes to waste. I try not to let that happen, but sometimes I pick a lot of one type of plant, but since cleaning and preparing the foraged food takes a lot of time and effort, sometimes I don't get to all of it before it goes off. When that happens, I just go with the flow and return the unused plants to nature by composting them.
If I had to commit to myself to use up every single foraged plant before it spoiled, I'd probably be too hesitant to forage at all, and since foraged foods take less of a toll on the environment and our body, I'll keep on foraging, even if I know that occasionally there will be some waste.
As for salvaged foods, like banana peels and veggie scraps, most of the above apply as well. No extra money was spent on purchasing the scraps, no extra environmental impact was made because of the scraps (you can't get bananas without the peels, for example). And ever since reading up about organics and pesticides, I'm a little more hesitant to use the peels of non organic produce, but I still will, here and there.
And no, I've tried offering watermelon rinds to poor people here- they don't want it! Neither that nor banana peels! So its not like whatever I didn't use could have been used by someone else- they're repulsed even by the thought.
Using up food scraps like produce peels- I view that as an extra now. Anything I do do, I commend myself for, but whatever I don't use, I don't eat myself up about.
But animal scraps? They'll never, ever, ever get wasted round these parts, as I view it as a total lack of disrespect for a life that was cut short for human consumption..
So, there's my answer for you. Yes, food waste is bad. I try not to waste food.
But to me, not all food was created equal. I try my best to eliminate waste as much as possible, but given the choice, I think its worse to waste food that was purchased in the store, because of the environmental toll it took to get to the store.
Do you agree?
Or do you think all food waste is equal, whether you're talking about foraged greens, watermelon rinds, chicken skin, cereal and milk, or a steak?
(P.S. I wanted to note for those who haven't read my foraging rules- when I forage, I never take huge quantities from one area- one of my rules is that after foraging, someone shouldn't be able to tell that you've been there. So no, I'm not damaging the environment in that way when I forage.)