Our shocking, food wasting habits

We have a curious relationship with food in this part of the world.

On one hand, we worry about it – wondering whether we’re eating healthy and fighting feelings of guilt associated with the calorie, fat or carb content when we suspect we might not be.

And on the other hand, we take its abundance and relatively affordable price for granted, so much so that we’re throwing it out by the truckload. Literally.

Experts estimate that between 40 and 50 per cent of all food produced in North America is wasted.

A report by the Waste & Resources Action Programme in the United Kingdom paints a similar picture, with about one-third of all food bought never being consumed.

The reasons for this are many.

Our hectic, convenience-based lifestyles mean we don’t have time to shop for groceries daily – instead, most of us probably shop about once a week and, given the lure of bulk packaging and volume discounts, buy way more than we actually need or are able to eat.

We’re unsure about expiry dates on food and what they mean.

According to a recently released survey conducted by Harris Interactive, more than three quarters of Americans throw out food past its expiry date because they think it is unsafe to eat – not realizing that a “sell by” date doesn’t mean the food will go bad the next day.

We’re also obsessed with perfection.

Most of us no longer really know where our food comes from, so we have little idea what it looks like before it’s magically transformed into something that ends up on our plates.

This has turned us into ultra-picky consumers in search of the mythical perfection we see in ads and on television – far from the reality of farming or even backyard gardening.

I learned about this first hand during a visit with a group of journalists this past spring to the Holland Marsh, a region of dark, fertile soil just north of Toronto where farmers grow great-tasting Ontario produce.

Taste alone doesn’t matter, we heard that day.

Fruits and vegetables with even minor imperfections – like onions with small marks or without skin, for example – are rejected by retailers and farmers end up being forced to compost them.

Copious amounts of food are wasted in restaurants every day too.

I just spent two weeks travelling through the southern U.S., and I was an unwilling participant in this waste, albeit by necessity.

My husband and I easily could have shared any of the meal-sized entrees and neither of us would have left the table hungry.

There was no way either of us – both healthy eaters – could comfortably eat all that was placed in front of us, so inevitably, large portions of our meals wandered into the bin.

Most of us in the post-war generations are lucky enough to never have known rationing or hunger.

We’re also fortunate to live in a part of the world where crops grow easily and farmers are experts at growing them abundantly. Even when weather disasters strike, we are still able to eat.

I think it’s time for a change in our relationship with food.

We should think about what we’re eating and how much food we actually need – compared to how much we might think we want or how much is put in front of us.

And fruits and vegetables with minor imperfections can still be eaten; in fact, they can be even more flavourful than those with a perfect appearance.

There’s a commercial on television at the moment that refers to this excess.

They’re trying to sell freezer bags so to make their point about how necessary they are, they show people in various situations buying or making food and then promptly throwing at least half of it in the garbage.

In the context of the commercial, I’m sure it’s meant to be somewhat humourous, but in reality, it actually unfortunately hits pretty close to home.

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