Nancyeclark's Blog


waste not,want not…A food rant

That proverb, waste not, want not means If we don’t waste what we have, we’ll still have it in the future and will not lack or want it.

I learned this from my grandmother. My grandmother lived through the depression and was a farmer’s wife; she knew how to take care of precious things so they would last into the next generation. She knew how to re-use and recycle. She knew that helping your neighbour was the right thing to do and that if you had food you were lucky and if you had more than you needed, you shared it with those that didn’t. She is the reason I have boxes of all sizes in my closet, why I keep a collection of used ribbon and wrapping paper, why I have recycling embedded in my soul and leftovers in the fridge. She is the reason I do not like throwing anything out and feel so out of step with today’s world where everything seems disposable; appliances, pets, people and food.

My grandmother would be appalled at the waste in our world. When she grew up, things like oranges were special because they only appeared in the store once a year, and if her Mum & Dad were doing well enough, she would enjoy one in her Christmas stocking. You ate seasonally…the things you grew or the things in the store that were available during growing season.

Now we have food from all over the world  and in huge piles in our stores. If you could see how much of that food is wasted, you would understand my pain.

Hundreds of pounds of meat, cheese, frozen food, produce, thrown into dumpsters every day. Produce that isn’t perfect, so it is not saleable…food close or at it’s expiry date…things like bananas or meat someone decided they did not want partway through their shopping and so left it in the cereal aisle to rot. There is more food in our stores than they can actually sell…it is to produce an effect, a display of plenty…to make you buy.

“Studies have shown that 63 percent of the average supermarket’s waste is food. . In California alone, more than six million tons of food products are dumped annually. An estimated $20 billion worth of food is thrown away each year by supermarkets. Stores in the U.S. waste twice as much food annually as those in Europe, and a recent U.N. report found that total American food waste—including what we pitch from our refrigerators—is worth $48 billion each year.
Although federal and state laws protect grocers from liability, many stores expressed concerns that donated food could sicken recipients, even if it has yet to reach its expiration date. While some major chains donate food, others do not. Major retail grocery chains are more likely to throw away fruits, vegetables and even entire hams and roasts than donate to distribution centers.”

But it is not just stores…40 % of food waste occurred in our homes.

“Every month, residents in the city of Toronto (Canada), toss out 17.5 million kilograms of food. A recent British study determined that about one-third of food purchased in the UK is thrown out every year. This equates to £10bn (about CDN$19.5 billion). A 1997 U.S. study found that 27 per cent of edible food is never eaten. In Toronto, the picture is not all that different: single-family households produce an average of 275 kilograms of food waste each year. Twenty-five per cent of this food goes into the garbage. Most of it edible. Much of it still in its original packaging.” Worldvision

The problem is, that we are consumers and wasters of food, and yet we allow so many in our world to go hungry. And there are rules and standards that sometimes prevent us from helping. At a fundraiser I attended a while back, there was a large amount of food left over, good, well made, nutritious food…enough to give to the local food bank for several family’s meals…untouched food, but the containers had been opened, although not used. Because they had been opened…we were not allowed to give the food away, it had to be thrown away. It killed me to see so much food go to waste. I suppose I understand the concerns over opened containers, but we all knew it had not been touched or spoiled or contaminated in any way, and it hurt, physically hurt, to know it was wasted.

It hurts me to think about wasted food…and hungry people right here, in my backyard.

It hurts to know there are people dying from the lack of decent, nutritious food the world over…particularly in the Horn of Africa…one of the worst hit places by famine on our planet.

“The world produces enough food to feed every man, woman and child on earth. Hunger and malnutrition therefore are not due to lack of food alone, but are also the consequences of poverty, inequality and misplaced priorities.” – UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Kul C. Gautam

And yet, 30,000 children have died in the last 3 months in the Horn of Africa.

And yet, famine exists….what is famine?

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Reference Table (the standard used by the UN), famine occurs when the first three of the following conditions occur:

  • 20 percent of population has fewer than 2,100 kilocalories of food a day
  • 30 percent of children are acutely malnourished
  • Two deaths per 10,000 people, or four deaths per 10,000 children per day
  • Pandemic illness
  • Access to less than four liters of water per day
  • Large-scale displacement
  • Civil strife
  • Complete loss of assets and source of income

There are places still on this earth, where famine and drought exist, where the first three conditions exist, where all conditions exist, and people are dying from lack of food and clean water. It is obscene, when so many have so much, that so many have nothing.

The F Word

We see the bounty (and so much waste) in our stores and are bombarded by advertising for fast food and we do not know what it is like to be hungry, homeless and constantly at risk…we send food aid to countries without realizing that much of what we send is nutritionally deficient, particularly for children. We saddle poorer countries with so much debt they can never get out from under. We can and do so many good things…but there is so much more a species so intelligent and creative could carry out…needs to accomplish. We need to reconnect with our planet and the people on it, or we will never care enough to bring about the changes that must be made to save ourselves from ourselves.

Canada sends food aid around the world…so do many other countries…and that is a good thing…partly. So much of what we send is doing so little for the children who are starving, because what we send is nutritionally deficient and even with our help, children are malnourished and face the effects of that immediately and throughout their lives.

“Diets that do not provide the right blend of high-quality protein, essential fats, carbohydrates,vitamins and minerals can impair growth and development, increase the risk of death from common childhood illness, or result in life-long health consequences. Yet the cereal-based fortified flours donated as food aid do not meet these basic nutritional standards.

The Starved for Attention campaign hopes to rewrite the story of malnutrition, by convincing governments to ensure food aid also targets the specific needs of young children with adequate nutritional products.”

MSF, Medecins sans Frontieres or  Doctors Without Borders has launched a campaign, Starved for Attention, to try to ensure that world food aid actually nourishes and helps children who are starving. You can find out more at their website…

MSF Doctors Without Borders

Famine is obscene…so is the massive waste of food in richer countries.We need to do so much more for hungry people, here in our own country, on our own doorstep, and in our “global village”. We are responsible on every level, from what we buy and where we shop and what we waste right through to our neighbours and neighbouring countries to those who live a world away…they are on our global doorstep after all.

I really do think one of the reasons for humankind’s lack of stewardship of our planet, our technological advancement at the cost of something deeper and more meaningful, the problems we face as a species, are brought on, partly at least, by the continued urbanization of and lack of connection with nature. We live more and more, in places where you cannot see the stars, where you cannot truly see and feel the seasons, where foods are available year round from far, far away instead of being seasonal and local, where children do not know where their food comes from, what growing vegetables look like, who have never met a cow. We isolate ourselves further and further from our own world, the planet that nurtures us and which we rape and pillage daily. If we grow up knowing only that food comes from a store, how do we care about what it costs to produce it, how do we care about the loss of the family farm to huge conglomerates, how do we care about the death of honey bees, or the cruelty to the animals we eat or the underpaid workers who harvest our coffee and other crops. If gas just comes from a pump…how do we care about a faraway oil spill, the toxic waste in Alberta or Ecuador…the cost to our oceans and marine life…to our air and climate?

Even with the internet and television there are too many people who do not seem to care that children are dying from hunger and thirst in a world that has more than enough food and water for all. We demand that our food be available at all times and in huge supply and not too expensive. We consume far too much of the world’s supply of food, resources, and water. It is time to re-think our ways.

Take a moment or two today (and every day) to assess your own habits, to open your eyes to the plight of the hungry. Follow a link, read about hunger…look at the faces of the children…and of the parents who would provide if they could, but instead see their children starve. Sign a petition…write a letter…make a donation.

Waste is obscene. Famine is obscene…allow yourself to be disgusted…and then add your voice to all those hungering for change…and help.

Please get involved. Now, before it is too late for one more child.


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