Globally, almost half of all the food the world produced is thrown away. This Global number hides some critical differences however. In most of the Global South, food is lost to lack of preservation techniques. Grain gets wet in the field, and instead of being dried with machines as it might be in the US, it molds and is lost. Someone slaughters a cow, and what doesn’t get eaten spoils in the heat. Fruit is harvested but bad weather means that it doesn’t dry adequately….you get the idea. The majority of food is lost shortly after harvest, globally.
In the Global North, the picture is VERY different. Here, we lose comparatively little food in the fields – we do lose some, but our access to rapid transit and mechanical preservation means that we lose a lot less that way. It also, however, has a price – instead of throwing away food right AFTER harvest, we expend a LOT of time, energy and fuel on that food BEFORE we throw it out. So instead of slaughtering a cow, everyone eating their fill and then having to leave some of the remains from lack of ability to preserve them, my beef-and-veggie stir fry gets tossed after…the cow was slaughtered, the meat was packaged and shipped in refrigerated trucks, the meat was held under refrigeration in a supermarket, I drove to the store to get it, I held the meat under refrigeration in my home, and then cooked it with natural gas or coal-fired electricity, ate what I could and then threw it out (ok, no food in my house gets thrown out or fully wasted – what we don’t eat gets eaten by chickens, dogs, cats, rabbits, goats etc….)
What’s troubling about this is that before we toss out about a third of the food we purchase, we’ve impregnated it with a LOT of fossil energies and emissions. If we are going to do that to our food, the very least we can do is try not to waste it, as WELL as cutting back on the inputs.
I was really good about this for a long time, and then I started fostering. Now I will say that we have had many fewer issues with food and kids than I expected while fostering. Most of the kids in our care have been very good about trying new things and working with us. We do buy some of their favorites, and it has meant more purchased food in our diets, but not as much as I initially feared. Most of our foster kids really grasp why it is that a family of 10 cannot give everyone their favorite every time, and why we don’t waste food.
And yet…there’s still more food waste. I don’t force kids to eat more than three bites of a food, and toddlers and babies simply can’t follow rules yet. I try to serve only tiny portions to start, but sometimes getting up three times in a meal to refill a toddler’s plate, while holding the nine month old tempts me to just put more on.
Some of this can’t be attributed to fostering – some of it also goes with Eli’s transition to a new school. Eli attended an elementary program for kids with autism from kindergarten until he turned 12 last year, and last summer transitioned to a middle-high school program. The big difference is that his new school provides lunch every day for all students, and Eli likes eating there. His old program required a packed lunch, and so for years, small portions of leftovers too little to make a meal became Eli’s lunch. Now we have to make a more concerted effort to eat them.
So the waste has been creeping up, and even though my chickens eat my food waste, I really would rather not feed risotto to the chickens. So one of my family’s tasks is to reduce it. I’m trying to make our serving mechanisms a little easier, particularly when I’m soloing with 7 kids. I’ve given Isaiah the task of keeping 18 month old G’s plate filled, and helping him as needed. I’m trying to make sure we have a “royal sampler” meal at least twice a week, in which everyone can pick their favorite leftovers, and that I look at least once a day to see what needs eating in the next 48 hours… and it is working.
What are your best tricks for reducing food waste, particularly with kids?