I love Thanksgiving! Getting together with family and friends, expressing our gratitude for all we have and…the food!!! But up until six years ago, when the film Wasted! The Story of Food Waste came out, I never gave much thought to all the food that we don’t eat (apart from leftovers–I just love leftovers!). When I was younger and didn’t clean my plate, my dad would say, “people are starving in China…” but I never really thought that was a great argument for me to finish my dinner!
In the U.S., up to 40% of our food ends up in the trash, even as 34 million people in this country go hungry (including 1 in 5 Westchester residents). As a public health nutritionist and sustainability advocate, I find this ironic and upsetting, but also empowering. Vegetables and fruit are some of the foods most often wasted. This represents nutrients missed out by [non]consumers, plus all the wasted resources and energy that went into producing them. And when we waste meat like turkey, that means an animal gave its life for no reason!
Food waste that ends up in landfills rots to produce methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere. In North Castle, the food we throw in the garbage goes to the Covanta facility in Newark, an incinerator that burns our trash, producing some electrical energy (they call it “waste-to-fuel”) and, apparently, some suspicious pink smoke.
But think of the potential! Food waste creates 6% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. That’s three times the emissions from aviation. That’s also resources that could have somehow been redistributed to get food to hungry people. That’s inefficiencies that, if resolved, could make a huge dent in our climate efforts–with zero adverse effects on us.
In terms of household budget, it seems a waste (pun intended) to throw out food (have you noticed the price of groceries?). But sometimes, despite our efforts to plan appropriately, we’re still left with food waste that is no longer edible. In that case, our town pays Suburban Carting to haul away garbage that could well stay in our backyard as vitamins for the soil. Taking food out of the waste stream not only saves the tax money (yes, North Castle pays for garbage by weight), but also leaves you with a much less smelly garbage can at the end of the week. It’s so easy to start a composting bin at home, but if you’re reluctant, there’s a new option here in town (see sidebar).
Did you know that at the first recorded religious Thanksgiving Day in 1623, the colonists were actually giving thanks for rain after a two-month drought? I guess early settlers realized that water was the most important part of a healthy diet! Today, our culture emphasizes abundance, and not just on Thanksgiving. But what if we decided to give thanks for “enough”? To me, the true meaning of Thanksgiving is appreciating all we have and being mindful of our impact on every living thing. That includes our “foodprint”.
Gandhi said, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” I have something to add to that. It’s not about restriction. In fact, I’ve found that having less [food or stuff] actually makes it easier to enjoy. You could have it all: the pumpkin, apple and coconut cream pies, but you’d never savor them the way you would a single choice of dessert. This Thanksgiving, I’m attempting to be more mindful in my planning, shopping, cooking and eating. Being present is the gift I plan to give myself.
North Castle is making it easier for you to take action now! Check out the Food Scraps Recycling Center at Lombardi Park. Purchase a composting kit from Town Hall or any member of the North Castle Sustainability Committee for only $25, collect your food scraps and drop off at any time.
Take action on food waste
- Think about the entire life cycle of your food before you buy it.
- Shop the bulk section and purchase only as much as you need.
- Shop your pantry before heading to the supermarket.
- Plan weekly meals around expiration dates.
- Learn to love (or re-purpose) leftovers.
- Home composters are easy to build or buy.
- Consume mindfully!