Monday, September 2, 2013

September: Waste Not, Want Not?

In a land of abundance, there is no region more abundant than ours at this time of year.  We are among the most fortunate people in the world when it comes to the availability of good, fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.  The many Farmers’ Markets in Niagara are bursting with produce, and shoppers are thronging to them in record numbers.  Increasingly, the big chain supermarkets are paying attention to consumer demand and we’re seeing local produce and products on their shelves… a most welcome change from days past when it was rare to see anything local in our supermarkets.  In addition, we have been seeing a significant increase in organic, heritage, and sustainable food being grown in our region.

That’s all good news.  The bad news is that so much of that food goes to waste.  In Canada, we waste about $27 billion worth of food every year, according to a report from theValue Chain Management Centre (VCMC).  What is worse, it is not food production, food packaging, food transportation, food service, or food storage that is to blame for the bulk of that wastage;  household waste… food thrown in the garbage by consumers like you and me… accounts for more than half.  In a land of abundance, we have become so used to buying more than we can eat that we don’t even think about how much we throw away.

To look at the issue another way, we throw away almost 40 per cent of the food we buy, or around 172 kg per person per year… in a nation where 9 per cent of the population is called “food insecure” and about 870,000 people rely on food banks month by month. 

This is a complex issue, and the simple answer (“Stop wasting food, and everyone will have enough”) is simply not true.  Even if we suddenly stopped wasting so much food, that wouldn’t put the surplus food on the tables of those who need it.  In fact, I suspect the problem is insoluble.  The only thing we can do, if we care enough, is become conscious of the issue and each of us in his or her own way, resolve to do better.

One way of doing better is to take surplus fresh food to organizations that exist to redistribute donated foods to those who need it.  Pelham Cares is such an organization and they welcome fresh food for their program of providing for those in need.  Is your garden overrun with tomatoes or cucumbers or zucchini?  Were you too ambitious when you bought three bushels of peaches to preserve?  Take the excess to Pelham Cares and let them give it to people who need it.

Another way to reduce the waste is to recognize what “best before dates” really mean.  These dates are not about safety, but about peak quality.  Canned and packaged goods can be safely eaten long after their best before dates have expired, and even dairy products, if properly stored, will last well after their best before dates.  For a complete list of what you can keep and how long, refer to an article in the Globe and Mail, published Nov. 19, 2012 and available on line.  And if eating “expired” foods turns you off, consider taking them (so long as the packaging is in good shape) to Pelham Cares.