On Sunday afternoon, when I got home from the garden and opened the fridge to put my containers of veggies inside, I was greeted by what looked like an empty plastic bag sitting on the top shelf. Once, it had contained leftover tofu brought back from a family dinner, but now it held nothing but a scant spoonful of black sesame seeds. I tossed the bag into the garbage, mystified by why Jason didn’t bother with the small gesture of getting rid of it.
Just a few minutes later, Jason came in, opened the fridge and started rummaging around. “Where did you put the sesame seeds?”, he asked.
“I threw them out. The bag was basically empty.”
“I was saving those seeds to sprinkle on my snack!”, Jason said. “I was really looking forward to them. You’re about to see a documentary on food waste, but you’re throwing out perfectly good seeds!”
I ended up fishing the bag out of the garbage so that Jason could savour what admittedly looked like a lovely snack of hummus and crackers, sprinkled with the rescued seeds.
“Wasting food is not only widespread, but it’s condoned,” says author Jonathan Bloom, interviewed on the subject of food wastage. This compelling documentary makes the argument that wasted food is society’s last environmental taboo.
Vancouver filmmakers Grant Baldwin and Jen Rustemeyer challenged themselves spend six months eating only wasted food. After a brief period of starvation, they soon discover the city’s hotspots, scoring enormous amounts of organic chocolate, packaged hummus and even chicken, all of it fresh, in warehouse dumpsters. Soon they have so much food that they’re giving it away.
Along they way, they interview experts, revealing that 40% of the world’s food is wasted — much of it in our own kitchens. The film argues that as much as we obsess over “local”, “organic” and even “homegrown”, our intentions mean nothing if it’s getting thrown out. Amazingly, a lot of produce is disposed of — even by small-scale local growers — simply because it’s oddly shaped or the wrong size. The amount of energy and water used to grow wasted food is staggering, let alone the nutrition that it could provide to a growing population.
Thankfully, a few organizations are doing something about it. Quest Food Exchange works with farmers, wholesalers and grocery stores to receive donations of surplus goods, which it sells for a low cost at a Vancouver grocery store for low-income people. The Vancouver Fruit Tree Project deploys volunteers to harvest from backyard fruit trees for redistribution to community groups.
Just Eat It focused mainly on farmers and grocery stores, not on restaurants. So I was happy the other day to see an article in the Vancouver Sun on the topic of restaurant food waste. Restaurateur Michael Wiebe of eight ½ advocates for better restaraunt access to composting services, saying that most restaurants generate an “amazing” amount of food waste every day. He created a two-block “green zone” of composting restaurants on Main Street, but says it’s not enough. Changes are needed in restaurant culture and municipal governments.
Remember, compost is not waste. Compost is precious.
At home, we actually waste very little. I even freeze parsley stems, onion skins and chicken bones and save them up to make broth. Everything we can’t eat goes into the worm bin and, eventually, into the garden.
But I still have my occasional, glaring lapses. The times when I take too much at a buffet and only eat half of what’s on my plate. The times when I throw out a bag of lovely sesame seeds.
I’m working on it.