Waste Not, Want Not? Food Edition

Today for lunch I made organic mac and cheese with hot dogs sliced into it for the boys.  E, being the little trash disposal he is, ate and ate and ate and ate.  G, on the other hand, did better than he usually does, but ate enough to sustain only a small animal – probably one in hibernation!

I cringed when I threw the food in the trash. I usually save it in the fridge, but supper was planned (leftovers from last night…and Sunday lunch), and I knew it probably wouldn’t be eaten tomorrow, either.  After G gets done playing with his food, it doesn’t look or taste appetizing at all!  But what a waste!

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Waste not, want not,” but does it really apply to us in first world countries anymore?  The phrase, in some form or another, has been used for centuries (it was recorded in 1572 as “willful waste makes woeful want,” according to this post at dictionary.com.)  Throughout the centuries, most people had to work hard for the things they had, and to be wasteful was to use up limited resources – resources that, once gone, were difficult to replace.

On the other hand, in the US, most of us don’t even think about running out- except that it might mean another trip to Walmart or Food Lion to pick up more. I don’t worry about running out of milk, clothing, or soap.  There’s more to be had cheaply and easily at the store, and it will take me a bit of cash and about 30 minutes to get it.  And I get to look at other pretty things to be had – and maybe even take some of them home.

So we’ve learned that being wasteful is rewarded with a trip to the store.  It doesn’t have serious consequences to our lives.  There’s no pain, no problems, in throwing away something just because we don’t want to reheat it later or we’re “tired” of the same thing.

We just don’t consider the impact we have when we are wasteful.

Obviously, the food we waste in our kitchen is not likely to have fed starving children in other countries, but what about the money we spend on that food, and the food to replace what we’ve wasted?  It could easily have been sent to help those who still struggle with the daily necessities of life. Or it could have been saved up for a vacation, a home, a car to replace the one that is on its last few miles.

And what about the trash we generate when we throw food and other biodegradable resources away?  It sits in plastic in landfills – taking up space and never returning to the earth.

If we must throw something away – if it’s inedible – are we in a situation in which we could put the food outside for the animals and nature to take it’s course?  We have a fenced compost, but many times I bring the food out into the fallow field and let the animals have at it.  (Please don’t do this if you are in a heavily populated area unless you have a compost bin!)

But before we even get to the point of throwing food away, there is a way to prevent having so much waste in the first place.  Part of living carefully and thoughtfully requires that we make the most of our resources, limited or unlimited.  Part of living simply is making do with what you have, of carefully knowing what will be good to eat and what will soon be bad – and not buying more food until you’ve eaten what you have.

Today I want to challenge you to clean out the fridge and cupboards.  When it’s clean – when all the moldy leftovers, the buggy flours, the swollen cans of fruit are gone, find a way to eat things before they go bad. Sometimes that means you have the same leftover roast for several days.  This is what we’ve done – roast and vegetables on Sunday, roast with gravy on Monday, and today it was cooked down to a delicious stew that my husband made extra good with just the right seasonings.  We kept it interesting by not having the exact same thing every day – it morphed from one food to another!


One response to this post.

  1. I think you found an insightful point — we don’t worry about wasting food because there are no negative consequences to it. I guess that’s why it’s so hard for my family to remember.


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