Thinking About Food Waste

David Trammel's picture

I've always hesitated in starting a Worm Farm in my kitchen.

Not because of any ickiness factor but because honestly I don't have alot of food waste. I live alone and usually eat 4-5 small meals a day, rather than 2-3 large ones. On Sunday mornings, I tend to cook large, and partition the results up in several smaller meals which I take into work. Once a week I'll make a salad, which given the difficulties in making one for just a single person, I make two which I give to one of my co-workers pays me a few dollars weach week for his salad.

The few times a month I do buy a meal, I'll always try and eat it all even if I feel like I'd done, just to not waste any.

I came across this article.

"Americans waste nearly 150,000 tons of food per day, amounting to about one pound (422 grams) per person, and fruits and vegetables are mostly what gets tossed, said a study Wednesday. The amount of land used annually to grow food that ends up in the garbage in the United States is 30 million acres, or seven percent of total US cropland. Some 4.2 trillion gallons of irrigation water gets wasted, too, said the report in the journal PLOS ONE."

One thing we should be teaching new green wizards is how to eat nutriously and healthy. This means cooking for themselves and using more locally grown or self grown ingrediants.

And that includes learning to cook the appropriate portions so less goes to waste.

I will admit to one problem I have, that is planting too much in the garden. By Summer's end I often have alot of eatable produce (mostly tomatos) still on the vine.

That of course brings up the skill of preserving and storing your harvest for the Winter. Another topic that new green wizards should learn.

Thoughts on either subject?

Food waste of one pound per day per capita is not a meaningful statistic unless we could get a finer grade of granularity on the data. Is this due to refrigerated cabbages that go bad because people do not have time or knowledge enough to cook and eat it because they are rushing from part-time job to part-time job to a third part-time job and eating fast food to sustain their energy and save time for transit? Is it spoiled milk that had to be dumped on the ground because prices were so low that the dairy farmer could not make a profit even by selling the stuff as pig slop to a farmer down the road? Is it food left on plates in snooty city restaurants by fashonably skinny people who wish to retain the illusion of youthfulness by ordering expensive gourmet food on a date and then not eating it? Very different kinds of food waste just in those three examples. City rules for disposing of fat down drains are already in force here, for residential and industrial trash collection service receivers. Most likely, as new laws come into effect, restaurants are going to be required by City waste handling rules to provide separate containers for compostable wastes.

On a farmstead, food prep scraps go to the chickens, mildly spoiled food goes to the pigs, and badly spoiled food goes into the midden or compost heap. Fish guts get put into the mound where the Three Sisters (maize, beans and squash) are planted. In China, chicken feet are pickled and eaten like pigs’ trotters here, or any other offal is used in France. The article you mention seems to focus on individual residential food habits while it ignores the massive and gross food waste of the industrial meat culture and the frightening amount of grain that goes into the making of meat. So be it. Let’s look at the suburban mindset and city rules for waste disposal. Common practices in place, though originally founded on sound ideas for reducing flies, typhus, typhoid, and tuberculosis where people are closely packed together, do not now foster the most advantageous use of the food waste as a resource and a means of re-mineralizing our over-stripped soils. The same principles that apply to dung wastes and to recycling apply also to food wastes: namely, 1) Separation at the source from the public waste stream; 2) A dedicated container for safe temporary storage and easy transport to the collective repository; 3) City-paid jobs for collecting, screening, and processing the waste product; 4) Continual efforts to educate and, if necessary, enforce punishments for that sector of the public which is careless or criminal in their use of the waste services supplied by tax-payer and City funding; 5) An economically sound end-use for the collected food waste, such as the program that has been proposed here for letting the food waste be used to grow and nurture trees for lining City streets that shade the sidewalks, keep the asphalt from melting in the streets, absorb run-off, prevent water pollution, even provide free fruits and nuts for birds and people, etc. A whole-systems approach, in fact.

As for what individuals trapped in the suburban car-based, alone and isolated culture can do, I recommend getting to know a helpful family of crows. They like stale bread, chicken bones, grain and veggie leftovers, boiled eggs that got frozen in the back of the fridge and are now rubbery and tough, moldy cheese, bruised fruit. Other food that goes bad can be wrapped up in those junk mail flyers and color inserts and ads printed on newspaper that are delivered weekly free of charge. The newspaper waste absorbs the moisture of the food waste and helps prevent fruit flies from establishing a hopeful colony in your kitchen. It makes the separate “compostable” kitchen wastebasket start to smell earthy and even pleasant—more like a well-tended compost than the usual sickly smell of food decomposition. Also, by separating out the food waste from the other plasticky trash, the weekly volume of trash is reduced by a factor of four, and the plasticky trash has very little smell at all. The organic garbage, with sufficient fiber mixed in (cereal boxes, torn paper grocery bags, paper towels, loo rolls, soil-sprout clumps of earth and roots, worthless novels, etc.), compresses itself down in a classic way. Even when it does go to the landfill, it will still be composted and create a little pocket of soil-like substance amid its fellow bags, offering a good example to its neighbors of how to gracefully age and decay.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Those green tomatoes can be cooked into soups. Some cook them into sweet pies , but I've never tried that. You can pickle them.

If you have only small amounts of food scraps to feed the worms, just keep it simple and put the scraps in a shallow pit in the garden. You can cover it with soil, or with dry leaves if you fear mammals will spread it about. Putting it directly in the garden skips a level of complexity (indoor worm farms). Before winter, you can pre-dig some holes for the scraps.

Since you are going to be moving to a place with your sister and garden there, you could also save up your scraps and take them over there to start improving that soil. Assuming your sister would be willing to save food scraps, you might double the amounts. (When my Dad lived in this city in an apartment he saved his scraps for my compost pile. Dear dad. He also saved eggshells separately and finely crushed them to give my the option of using them separately --as for snail barriers).

I agree, though, that most people wasting what they have cooked is not a major source of food waste in the world....I always will remember driving a small road in southern Missouri and coming across a huge pile of rice in the road. It had not fit in the truck that hauled it away? It slid off the mounded pile of harvest on the truck as it drove away? I don't know, but it was a phenomenal amount of grain to see abandoned on the road.

Magpie's picture

Not sure how you keep the green waste down, dtrammel! We do basically 100% of our cooking from scratch, and grow nearly 100% of our own greens, but we produce between 0.5 and 2 litres of green waste every day. Carrot peels, potato peels, grape stems, zucchini ends, nut shells, onion skins, citrus rinds, bones, and the unharvestable part of garden plants as well (vines, etc). There are two of us and only one of you, so perhaps that's part of it. We do, very occasionally (maybe once every other month) have some prepared food go bad.

I wonder what are you doing different!

I do think that knowing how to cook and what is nutritious would be great to be included in peoples' general knowledge--these are the foundation on which a productive life can be built!

I don't think you need a lot of food waste to have a worm farm - you just need your vegetable scraps/peelings and whatever scrapes off your plate. You can start small. I'm experimenting with one that's stacked 1-gallon buckets (admittedly not for my kitchen waste -that's going in the regular compost- but for my used microgreen/soil-sprout experiments).

The main dilemma I've come across for household worm bins is that fruit flies are attracted (all it takes is one fruit fly to come in on something from the garden or the store). I suppose my workaround for that is that they're also attracted to water and do they sometimes land in my betta tank where my betta dispatches them post haste.

In my opinion, food waste in the home is not the real issue, especially if you're mindful of the amount you buy and make and then compost. It's the institutional food waste that's egregious. I try not to guilt myself into overeating - it's ok to make an offering to the compost organisms.