Great article by Nat Watkins in The New Atlantis — “The Secret Life of Leftovers” [link] for anyone who ever worried about throwing away food, anyone whose refrigerator is full of leftovers that will never be eaten, or anyone whose kitchen and backyard is full of compost bins.
A few interesting tidbits:
- [We] live in a country where 30 to 40 percent of food produced is never eaten, where the average family throws out $1,500 worth of food every year, and where a typical restaurant discards about a half-pound of food per meal. This is an astonishing historical anomaly. In almost any other time and place in human history, someone would look at the very same waste and say, “Looks delicious!”
- Like our mass-production pipelines, we are given the tempting option to choose efficiency over ethicality. Only that lingering guilt — that irksome cognitive dissonance — remains to remind us that our judgment isn’t entirely sound.
- [S]ome regulations are terribly inefficient for distinguishing food from waste. Take expiration dates, which we might think are a self-evident and unmistakable boundary line between food and waste. Most Americans treat them with unquestioning credibility and will toss anything a day or two over the limit straight into the trash. But expiration dates are almost entirely superficial. With the exception of infant formula, they are voluntary, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency even encourages us to question expiration dates. On its landing page on food dating, we read that “in an effort to reduce food waste, it is important that consumers understand that the dates applied to food are for quality and not for safety.”
Maybe you have older family members who will cheerfully carve off the mold and eat just about anything. It isn’t just a remnant of the Great Depression.