Rich the eat

If your parents or grandparents were members of the Silent Generation, defined by the Great Depression experience, or the Greatest Generation, similarly shaped by the world war, or even the GG’s younger siblings, who grew up in wartime, their attitudes to food more than likely grew from scarcity.

My grandmothers, who lived through both the depression and the war – and it doesn’t need much reminding that both these experiences hit the Poles much harder than your average civilian in Australia or the United States, or even Great Britain – routinely forced me eat. Which was a problem because I was not a big eater as a child. Sandwiches would be cut into little squares – “soldiers” (typically Polish!) – and I had to finish them all, otherwise any left would “feel lonely and cry”. Thus anthropomorphised and personalised the blackmail worked much better than more abstract appeals to frugality (waste not, want not) and respect for the gifts of the earth would have. You, dear reader, might have avoided cannibalising an infantry platoon off your plate, but the chances are you might have been at a receiving end of guilting like “Finish your food! The children in Africa are starving” (to which you would have been likely too young to retort that fattening you up will do absolutely nothing for the health and well-being of your sub-Saharan peers).

I haven’t survived the Great Depression or the Second World War, and have only vague memories of food queues in the Polish workers’ paradise of plenty, but I have most definitely survived my grandmothers, and so to this very day I feel vaguely uneasy about throwing out any food.

Roughly one third of food produced around the world – 1.3 billion tonnes – is wasted. In Australia, we throw out about 20 per cent of the food we buy. This translates to over $1000 in wasted groceries money per household per year, 4 million tonnes of discarded food, and up to $10 billion of economic loss. The United States seem to sit right on the world average, wasting half the fresh produce and one third of foodstuffs overall, at a cost of US$1,600 per household. Sure, no one starves in Ethiopia because you’ve chucked out a few slightly soft carrots, and food is both a renewable resource and biodegradable. Still, all this waste is such a waste.

saltWhy do people throw out unused food? Because they buy too much of what they need, or buy on impulse what they might not. Because our sophisticated aesthetic sense nowadays revolts against fresh produce which might not be spotlessly fresh anymore, even if it’s still eminently edible. Because we get confused by the “use by/best before” labels, which in turn are often made to confuse us. It’s all music to food companies’ (possibly genetically modified) ears; the more they sell the more they earn, whether the food gets consumed or discarded. They don’t have any incentive to make us stop and think – it’s entirely up to us. Our lives are so busy we find that increasingly difficult, and fortunately (or unfortunately) we’re well off enough not to have to, at least not too much. But we should nevertheless try. If you can easily afford to throw a thousand dollars into a garbage bin every year, I would rather you instead donated that sum to The Daily Chrenk to make it an even better blog.

What I can remember of today’s Sunday sermon through answering Tinder messages, revolved around the parable of a Pharisee big-noting himself over a humble sinner. At the risk of sounding like the former, I’m probably better than average in using up my food. I eat pretty much the same breakfast and lunch every day, and when I cook dinners I try to buy only as much as the recipe requires and no more. But even I found myself yesterday throwing out from the fridge virtually full jars of more exotic foodstuffs like red curry paste, tahini, and sundried tomato pesto, which have expired over the past few months. As with any other food disposal, I have felt uneasy and guilty throughout the process.

What is one to do? You could avoid recipes which call for some more unusual ingredients, which you cannot buy in the exact quantity you need. You could keep making the same (or similar) dish every few weeks until you finish off that jar of red curry paste. You could stop worrying and accept that from time to time you will buy a $5 jar of something or other to only use a spoonful or two and then a year later throw out the rest.

Or someone, perhaps possessing an overabundance of social and environmental conscience, could start selling food in smaller packages. As I said a few paragraphs before, the big food companies – any food companies, really – don’t have the incentive to do so, because bigger volume means bigger turnover and bigger profit. Will anybody save me from my guilt?