I have a secret to share about the grocery store. Me, I like a banana with a few spots on it. I look at those green ones on the grocery store shelves and can just feel the chalkiness in my mouth. That’s why my favorite spot in the grocery store is usually in a back corner, maybe over by the bathrooms, where there is a rack of “old” produce. That’s what the grocery workers call it. I call it “ripe” produce. I’m afraid that we have become so accustomed to wanting something to LOOK perfect, that we have forgotten that looks often don’t mean much when you start talking about taste. In the US, we are wasting about ½ of the food that we grow. And grocery stores are a big part of that. Anything that doesn’t look like the perfect picture of itself gets dumped out the back door (literally). Is it the grocery store’s fault? They want to put out their “best” stuff. Trouble is, we customers equate “looking good” with “GOOD”, and so we continue to shun apples for small bruises, bananas with brown spots, and avocados for being soft.
Now, we can’t just jump on the blame bandwagon at the grocery store until we take a hard look at what goes in our garbage. At home we throw away an enormous amount of good food as well. Even from the beginning, some food will be wasted because it can’t get harvested, or just isn’t right for consumers. Check out this TED talk to see more about what I’m talking about. On the farm, we feed uneaten food to chickens, pigs, or throw it in our compost pile. Not much gets wasted around here. Even our tomato and pumpkin plants get thrown in the pig pen after we’re finished harvesting. This type of recycling was common in leaner times in history. During WWII, people in England kept metal “Pig Bins” on street corners to save food that people weren’t going to eat for the pigs. These days, feeding pigs such leftovers is illegal, but is there something more we can do to recycle our food? It seems to me that shopping from that rack of old produce is a start. Tell the grocery store you don’t need perfect food. Ask your local grocer to compost what they throw away, or give the blemished produce to a pig farmer. Take care in your meal preparation and encourage your family not to waste food. Make friends with a local farmer and bring some veggie leftovers over to their chickens every once in a while. A big part of raising food sustainably is not throwing away half of it.
A blog about farming and food. Kate Bogli owns and operates Maple View Farm, raising livestock and growing veggies, with her husband Jason. The farm has been in his family for 65 years.