This is a post I’ve had sitting in my head and my heart, waiting to be written about for quite some time now. It’s about food. It’s about waste and it’s about time we starting changing the way we do things here in Australia.
A Road Trip and a Fridge Clean Out
Back in the Summer of January 2013, my boy and I set forth on an Aussie Road Trip. We shot straight up the Hume Highway on our way to Brisbane over just two days and then slowly made our way down the beautiful East Coast over a couple of weeks. Before we went on that trip we did a huge clean out of our fridge and sadly, much food had to be thrown out. Over the course of the trip, we did our best not to waste food, carting items in the esky from one friend’s house to the next, but alas some food was still lost in the heat and the spontaneity of travel.
When we returned home that Summer I decided to set myself a little project. First, I was going to try REALLY hard not to waste any food over the next year and second, any food purchased by our household that had to be sent to landfill, would be photographed before it was thrown into the bin. I figured this would make me more accountable about what was being thrown out and it would provide a visual diary and record of the items that were going into the bin.
As a self-declared eco-warrior and someone who considered themselves quite resourceful, aware and informed about food wastage, I figured I wouldn’t be taking too many photographs of mouldy pieces of fruit. Seeing that I was the health nut/green guard of the household and my boy was, well…not so visibly those things, I was pretty sure it would be all his food that we’d be snapping pictures of. Oh how wrong was I…
What the Research Says
Before publishing this post I engaged in a little research to gain a better understanding of how much food we really waste in Australia. You may have seen a few figures and stats thrown around in other articles but trust me, we need to keep hearing them because the figures are ASTOUNDING, not to mention shocking and shameful. The OzHarvest Food Figures page paints a particularly sobering picture for us all. Consider just some of these statistics:
- 3.28 million tonnes of food is driven to landfill in Australia each year
- Australians discard up to 20% of the food they purchase = 1 out of every 5 bags of groceries they buy
- Dumping a kilo of beef wastes the 50,000 litres of water it took to produce that meat, throwing out a kilo of white rice will waste 2,385 litres, and wasting a kilo of potatoes costs 500 litres !
- The rich countries worldwide have nearly twice as much food as is required by the nutritional needs of their populations
- The bread and other cereal products thrown away in households alone would have been enough to lift 30 million of the world’s hungry people out of malnourishment
We are seriously doing something wrong here. Even more concerning is the false sense of reality we have lulled ourselves into when it comes to our food wastage. After a year of photographing my scraps; I am living proof that even with the best of intentions, we still waste so much.
I’ll warn you now: these pictures are not pretty. In fact, most of them are really ugly. They were shot on my phone, often quickly, in bad lighting and from awkward angles. I had no intention of staging the shots, I wanted to reflect the mindless way in which food is thrown away by so many of us: quickly, disrespectfully and habitually. Having said that, each time I placed an item on the bench to be photographed over the year of January 31st 2013 to January 31st 2014 I was mindful, disappointed and felt overwhelmingly guilty. Also, each time an item was dropped into the bin I would send a little apology out to the universe, each time with a promise to try harder. I would buy less, plan better, be more conscious of what was in my fridge and freezer.
So, there you have it.
- 365 days of food wastage, carried out by a couple in their early thirties, living in inner city Melbourne.
- There are a total of 193 photographs in the gallery above. About a third of which are doubles because I may have photographed the outside of a package and then inside to show what it was.
- In total, I could estimate that we photographed approximately 130 items of food.
- Some of these items came from the freezer, a couple were taken whilst out for a meal when we’d ordered too much, many were leftovers in containers, some were failed smoothies and juices: the remnants of failed experiments and many of the items were fruit and vegetables, particularly fresh herbs.
- Unfortunately I didn’t weigh the food items. If I estimated that the majority of the items weighed between 50-200 grams and then averaged that out to approximately 125 g per item I can, at a stab estimate the weight of our waste to be 16.25 kg in total.
- If I divide the wastage between the boy and I then that’s just over 8 kg each for the year.
- As a nationwide comparison, we actually did pretty well. The OzHarvest statistics claim that “Australians waste close to 3 million tonnes of food per annum, or 136 kilos per person per annum” so comparably, we wasted a significantly small amount of food for the year.
- It’s important to note that sometime around August/September the school I work at got chickens. From then on, I was able to take any fruit and vegetable scraps to school and feed the chickens with these. I didn’t photograph these items as they were not going into landfill.
OtherWiseLiving: Where to from here?
The entire premise of OtherWiseLiving is exactly as it sounds: other, and wise ways of living; wise for you and wise for our world.
It’s time for us to get wise as a nation. For the majority of you reading this blog, you are not poor- you are rich. Just like me, you most likely have a smart-phone and/or a computer, you have access to the internet, you probably have a car, a job, a roof over your head, 3 meals or more a day, take-away once in a while and the odd fancy dinner out. I would also make the assumption, that you are a good and beautiful person (most people I have the pleasure of knowing are!) who tries to do their best in a world that has become pretty crazy at times and where you are “always busy.”
There are millions of people in the world that do not have even half the securities I listed above and the inequality of our food distribution is distressing. You can’t literally feed the world or solve world hunger by being more conscious about what you throw out but…
I truly believe that when individuals begin to take small steps towards creating even just little changes for the better in their daily lives; big and beautiful things start to happen. Mindfulness, gratitude and awareness start to spread and slowly, that change filters out to people you know, who tell people they know, who tell people they know, who tell people they know and this change begins to spread organically through our society.
Next Thing You Know
- You’ve just had the entire family over for dinner and you’re in a hurry to clean up and clear the plates, you stop before mindlessly scraping the scraps into the rubbish bin and ask whether anyone has “A dog? Chickens? Would like to take the leftovers to work tomorrow?“
- Maybe you’re a teacher and it’s end-of-year class party time and instead of asking each child to bring a plate to feed the entire class, you ask each child to bring enough to feed 4 students.
- You could start shopping more frequently and buy smaller amounts.
- If you’re pressed for time, use an online home delivery service so you only select the items you need for that week.
- Use your left-overs
- Make more soups
- Freeze fresh herbs or blend them with some olive oil to make a pesto
- If you are single, a couple or a small family, take your work colleagues your leftovers; they’ll love it!
- Stew slightly off stone fruits
- Freeze your bananas and use them for smoothies
If you are keen to do a little extra reading, there is a great post by Tedx speaker Selina Juul over at ThinkEatSave. I particularly like the way she emphasises the power of the consumer and the individual in putting an end to food waste.
Thank you for reading this post. I know it was a little long but it is such an important issue and one I hope you will keep in the forefront of your mind. Please help to remind your friends and family to do their part in reducing food wastage by sharing my post with them.
Have a wonderful, hopefully waste-free week!
N.B. Title image credit: Commit to be Fit: Iso-Whey Blog