Well, Christmas Day went over exceedingly well. This was the first time I prepared an authentic Christmas dinner for the family – usually it’s a Chinese-interpretation of what turkey dinner is, prepared by my parents. I did everything from stuffing the turkey, to cranberry sauce, to real gravy, yum!
Gift-wise, that went successfully too. Mom nagged me all day about getting her a World’s Best Pot Scrubber like mine, and to her surprise, everyone got one under the tree. The melamine plates went over really well by my Uncle and Aunt, and the Al Gore and David Suzuki books seemed to arouse genuine curiosity with the cousins. Most of my daughters’ gifts were unpackaged toys, except for a few, and she noticed that right away. And the traditional exchange of red envelopes carries over to Christmas, so gifts from the elders was also package-less. I still feel guilty over the wrapping paper, but I saved at least half of it to use again next year. The little pieces will be great for those smaller gifts that my daughter likes to wrap. I even managed to save a few with tags intact for next year! That greatly reduced the amount of paper I had to recycle.
As we cleaned up dinner last night, and as I peered into the fridge packed with leftovers today, I wondered, what about food waste? How big an issue is that? I know that living in a small household such as mine, if I don’t eat the food and my daughter doesn’t eat the food, no one else will. So often, things get left uneaten and I waste more than I care to admit.
I try to console myself by saying it is being composted, but I know that the issue is bigger than that. For every bit of food that I waste, I am throwing away all the energy that it took to grow the food, transport the food, keep the food at the right temperature, and then to transport the waste, and compost it at a facility. Not to mention the energy that it took for me to make the money to buy the food, and the energy that I used to get it home, keep it cool in my fridge, and cook it if it was leftovers.
Interestingly enough, the day after Christmas, there was an article in the Toronto Star today entitled How we waste food which describes the problem in detail, including how much food goes uneaten in households and wasted in the food industry. In the day that of hunter-gatherers, wasting food was not a problem. You picked it, you ate it, if you didn’t eat it, it went straight back into the ground. However, today it seems we are so far removed from food production, and food production has been so mechanized, that eating an apple today is many, many times more energy consuming than it used to be to just pick it off your tree. And if the food has been further processed, the impact is even greater. Composting is not the energy-free process it should be either. The whole process seems almost ridiculous, really. Food should be much simpler. That is one of the reasons why eating local is so important to me, and I am going to try to continue eating local as much as I can over the winter. I already decided a few years ago to definitely avoid anything that was grown overseas. Oranges shouldn’t be coming from Africa. However, I do make exceptions if it’s just an occasional treat that is grown in season and can’t be grown locally.
As the New Year approaches, one of my Non-Disposable Earth Project goals will be to reduce the waste of food. I am not sure how I am going to do that, as it is a multi-faceted problem, unlike replacing paper napkins with cloth ones. I will have to be careful not to prepare too much food, which I think I can handle. But trying not to have too much food in the fridge is a little trickier, as it is dependent on when I have time to pick up groceries. Then there is the issue of pleasing household tastes, i.e. we don’t both like to eat the same thing, so some waste goes along with that too. And from day to day, I don’t always want to eat the same thing. It will be tricky, but I think I there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Finally, although I think it is great that we have municipal composting in Toronto, I still feel a little pang of guilt that I’m not doing my own composting. Doing your own composting requires zero carbon output, unless you count the output from your own elbow grease. Also, after scooping up some of the free city compost this spring and finding much foreign matter in it including bits of plastic bag and broken glass, I don’t trust the city compost anymore. So I’ve been toying with the idea of worm composting – indoor composting in a small bin at home. If I can find the room for it in my small kitchen. I’d love to find someone who already does it and see what it’s like. More on that as it develops.
So what have I learned this holiday? That I even have to add food to my list of non-disposables so that food can complete the cycle of land to plate and back to the land in the most efficient, least wasteful manner possible.