A couple of weeks ago on a cross-country trip, I got a rare visit with my dear friend Jenni Field. She’s a pastry chef with a hilarious blog-site on which she shares her cooking genius and beautiful sense of humor with the world. Lately, she’s been thinking about our complicated relationship with food, and how we grow, prepare, choose, eat, and waste it. She thought so much about it, that she birthed an idea that she calls the Four Pounds of Cheese Project. The name comes from a recent National Geographic-reported stat that the average American throws away about 4 pounds of cheese per year, or 14% of what they purchase.
Basically, she challenged her friends and loved ones to photograph their food waste for one week and then blog about it. I’m game! After all, I’m an environmentally-conscious-slightly-obsessive kind of girl who can’t stand to waste anything. My family of 4 only takes the trash out to the curb about once per month, because we just don’t make that much. I figured this would be a good exercise for me, but that overall I would make a passing grade.
So let’s get started. After conferring with Jenni, I decided to make the following categorical decisions:
1. Photograph everything that’s edible but not eaten, including stuff that makes its way to the compost pile. After all, this is about hunger and wasteful production issues more than landfill space.
2. Don’t photograph food waste that isn’t edible, like coffee grounds or carrot greens (though there is a discussion to be had about food parts that we toss that are actually edible, like apple cores).
3. Include food that came out of my garden, even though this food does not “consume” the vast amount of resources utilized by its commercially grown counterparts for professional growing, picking, packing, shipping, and storage.
Ok, so now that the ground rules are set, I will make my first confession: I was more than a bit embarrassed by my food waste by the end of Day 1. It all started out innocently enough. There was the unfortunate peach incident, which was a bummer (I’ve been working my way through a basket of fabulous Alabama peaches that I personally drove back on my above-mentioned cross country trip, and I let one go bad). I tossed it before I remembered to photograph it, so I’m including a photo of one of the survivors in memoriam.
Then there was the breakfast toast crust left by my sweet daughter. When my kids were toddlers, I fell into the mommy habit of eating up all the leftover crusts, pretzels, and grapes that they left behind on their plates. As this was in addition to my regular adult lunch, I found I was eating a bit more than I needed each day. Over the years, I have tried to let go of this habit. I must admit to being tempted to gobble up my daughter’s crusts just to save me from having to report it in this blog. But in the name of honesty….
But then came dinner, and as I reached in the fridge to pull out the blueberries for our oatmeal, I spied a forgotten tub of beautiful, unopened, and thoroughly molded strawberries. (The photo doesn’t do a good job at showing all the mold; it was on every berry.) I stared at them, and the mental debate began: well, I thought, technically they had molded yesterday, and so were wasted before Day 1 of this project. Really, they weren’t for this meal at all, I reasoned. Ah, but then this is a slippery slope, isn’t it? I hated this waste most of all, because these berries were professionally grown, picked, packed, shipped, and stored, using up tons of resources and most likely all kinds of not pleasant to think about chemicals. And they weren’t even opened.
But those strawberries are why Jenni proposed the Four Pounds Project to begin with. I can already tell that I’m going to be looking at my fridge with different eyes by the end of this week. And hopefully my sharing my ups and downs will be useful to somebody else out there who also wants to reduce their consumption and waste.
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