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What happened to waste not?

By Don “Doc” Sanders

When I was in elementary school most of my classmates complained that the cafeteria food was very similar in flavor and texture to the cardboard boxes the canned fruit arrived in. The macaroni was so dry you could pick up the homogenous lump with one stab of your fork. And if you were really good, you could stuff it in your mouth like a chipmunk and swallow it before you gagged.

Miss Wiebe (that was her real name), our third grade teacher, made you try everything on your plate. There were children starving in Africa, so we couldn’t let our food go to waste, she’d tell us.

To get around Miss Wiebe, my friend Tommy, who hated peas, put them in his pockets, which he emptied over near the fence behind the swings. Sometimes the cafeteria lady scraping off the trays would grab an untouched apple or banana to take home. One boy in my class, Jimmy, would snatch up his apple and mischievously take a bite out of it, at the last possible moment, before giving up his tray to her.

My mother’s favorite strategy for getting her boys to eat was: “You have to try it. Eat three bites.” Then when I forced myself to eat three bites, she said, “Look how little is left. You might as well eat the rest, rather than let it go to waste.”

If I didn’t, I was left sitting at the table while my brothers went outside to play ball or go somewhere with our father. Now, after all these years, research has shown me that my mother was on to something about not wasting food — though back then I thought she was just into torture similar to water boarding.

Today, there are, in fact, children starving around the world because vast quantities of food are being wasted. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers estimates that 40% to 60% of the food produced in the world goes to waste. Solutions for preventing food waste are particularly critical, as we face predictions that the world population will increase by two billion people by 2050. How will we feed them?

The answer is more than just a matter of finding how to get kids like Tommy to eat their veggies or to reduce the incidence of food spoiling before it can be sold at the supermarket. The solution has more to do with other problems that prevent food from reaching hungry people. These include:

• Vegetables that aren’t harvested because they are too large or small or lack symmetry;

• Fruit that falls off the tree and is classified as seconds or is discarded;

• Food products that are discarded when the “best used by date” passes, rather than selling it at a marked down price;

• Wholesale prices drop so low there is no profit in shipping produce;

• Bargain-priced bulk food purchases that will spoil before they can be used;

• Barriers in developing countries, such as lack of refrigeration, transportation and fair markets, as well as arcane government regulations that result in food rotting in the field.

Once my three brothers and I got past our finickiness, wasted food wasn’t an issue at our house. We could clean up a meal of appetizers, salad, roast beef with all the trimmings, a couple of side dishes, and a dessert almost faster than our mother could give the blessing.

However, one of my brothers (I won’t say which one) would bring the feeding frenzy to a halt — to my mother’s dismay — when he would lick the last couple of chocolate chip cookies on the plate. That way, he could leisurely savor the rest of the cookies to the very last crumb because, after that, no one would eat the last two.


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