Food Waste – Spoiled Rotten

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The fruit rotting in the bowl on the side table in my dining room makes me sad.  Food waste. Yet every week, there are some plums or a nectarine slowly becoming browner, softer and juicier while fruit flies buzz overhead. Now, I like nectarines, and I feel so disappointed to see them ruined by sitting there.  Not to mention the vegetables putrefying in the drawer on the bottom of my refrigerator. Why are they rotting?  Because we didn’t get around to pulling them out, putting the on a plate and serving them to ourselves and our kids.

Outliers in food waste

I think my family might be outliers in terms of food waste.  My family of four spends around $2000 a month on food. The national average is something between $500 and $1200.  Living in San Francisco the average is probably closer to the top end of $1200.  Somehow we manage to spend almost twice that. How is this possible?

Our attention is on fresh fruits and vegetables and minimizing processed food.  I blog about it. You should understand as well that we are not eating out.  We eat out approximately one day a week.  And eating out is not exactly right, we order grub hub and we spend about $70 for the family of four. So, that’s an additional $300 per month.

No, the premium is from organic food. A gallon of regular USDA milk costs about $4.  A gallon of organic milk costs $8.  A pound of ribeye beef costs $14/lb. whereas the organic costs $22.  This adds up quickly.  Also, this has the unintended effect of making all the convenience foods more expensive. After a decade of steering our kids away from McDonalds and KFC because of the production processes, I now have two teen agers who are averse to eating most of the things available in the supermarket.

Experiments lead to waste

My daughter is a strict vegetarian.  She eats dairy, but will only eat cheese that is not melted.  But she doesn’t like nuts, tofu, tempeh, seitan, or mushrooms. She also doesn’t like leftovers, or sandwiches. She is wary of anything that is not organic.  So, what we are left with are so very precious organic treats and fruits in her lunch.  We also are constantly trying new and interesting vegetables that might agree with her palate.  A lot of these don’t.  Or they succeed once and then never again.

A lot of that fresh organic food ends up rotting. I wish I could blame all the rotting fruit on my daughter.  I can’t because the main reason is that we buy the vegetables and fruit at the grocers on the weekend with the best of intentions and then as the week rolls on, we can’t seem to muster up the energy to make the recipes that we set out to at the beginning of the week.

“Beets, oh I love beets,” my significant other says.  When it’s her night to cook, however, she doesn’t budget more than half an hour to get everything on the table.  She’s busy.  Looking up the recipe, getting it together and cooking beets for an hour is not going to happen.

Food Waste begins with over-shopping

The obvious problem is that we overbuy.  There is good reason for this.  If I’m going to buy an apple, I should probably buy four of them.  One for each member of the family.  Can’t leave anybody out. Apples aren’t special.  Not getting an apple will not bend somebody out of shape.  But what about a nectarine? Nectarines are delicious, what if we only bought enough nectarines for three?  I assume that somebody is going to be put out.  Inevitably, however, one of us four doesn’t want a nectarine this week.  The rest us don’t want more than one or don’t want to take someone else’s nectarine. Five days later that nectarine is rotting in the fruit bowl.

Why didn’t that nectarine tempt someone to eat it? I think it is because there are some many other delicious precious little snacks that my partner buys and my children expect in their lunches.  Why eat a piece of fresh fruit when you can have an intensely sweet and intensely sour fruit rollup instead? Who wants a lychee berry when there are flaming hot Cheetos to be had?

Strategic scarcity

I am beginning to think that the solution to food waste is to buy just a little bit less of everything than we need.  Sort of like musical chairs, always having one less apple than there are people.  I think this will do a bunch of things.  One it will make people who want the fruit go ahead and take it.  They know they aren’t taking anyone’s apple because there wasn’t enough for everyone to begin with.

For the vegetables, eliminating food waste could follow the same pattern. It won’t do much about the beet situation (the solution there is recipes which call for raw beets). Instead of just making sautéed squash, the cook for the evening must figure out how to combine smaller quantities of different vegetables to get enough for everyone at the table. They’ll be forced to improvise and get creative and more likely to use the lonely cilantro, celery, green onion, cabbage, celery root, yellow beets, and or sweet potatoes that are relentlessly maturing in the drawer.