If you were a picky eater as a child, you likely heard this phrase or something similar:
Do you know how many children around the world are starving right now? You have a full plate in front of you. Eat up!
Many of us internalize this way of thinking as we get older. We feel pressured to eat everything on our plate to avoid the guilt of throwing food away. But, is it really better to eat food you don’t want? I don’t think so. Hopefully, by the time you finish reading this article, that eyebrow you have cocked at me right now will come down.
First World Countries And Over-Consumption
We all know that First World countries gobble down a large percentage of the world’s resources. From oil to timber to food, First World countries sweep into other nations around the world and collect all the resources they need to take care of themselves. But, do you know how disproportionate the numbers actually are?
I completed a mandatory environmental science class to earn my bachelor’s degree in business. According to the textbook we used, developed countries made up only 18% of the world’s population but consumed 88% of its resources. Americans also have a larger footprint than everyone else. It is double that of the entire European Union or Japan.
Food and ecological footprint are not the only damning statistics either. Washington State University states that Americans make up just 5% of the world’s population, but they use nearly a quarter of the world’s energy. For comparison, one American consumes as much energy as 6 Mexicans or 370 Ethiopians.
Americans Eat Way Too Much
When people from Europe eat at an American restaurant for the first time, one of the first things they comment on is the size of the servings. While restaurants might not have started the overconsumption trend in America, they certainly have not helped it. Consequently, Americans collectively eat 200 billion more calories than they need each day. WSU estimates that this is enough to feed 80 million people who actually need it.
Americans also waste a lot of water. Most Americans use 159 gallons of water per day, whereas most people in the rest of the rest of the world use about 25 gallons of water per day. Meanwhile, a third of the world’s population does not have access to clean, safe water.
So, is more consumption really the right response to waste?
Overeating and Its Global Effects
One Fast Company article declared that overeating accounted for 10% of global food waste. It cited several reputable sources to back its claims, including a study from the University of Edinburgh. However, it needn’t look far to find several studies and media articles sharing that overeating has made a massive contribution to food waste, and — by extension — poverty.
In fact, one study showed that we actually waste more food by overeating than we do by throwing it away. A study in Italy attempted to quantify this via excess body weight. The study estimated that excess body weight around the world accounted for 140 billion tonnes of wasted food, each year. This is much higher than the estimated figure for global food waste, which looks almost modest in comparison at 1.3 billion tonnes.
Since these and other studies surfaced, body positivity groups have called them fat-shaming and claim that scientists should look elsewhere to solve their ecological problems. But, when I first started toying with this idea back in 2015, I wasn’t even thinking of overweight or obese people. I was thinking of people like me — of a healthy BMI — who feel pressured to eat everything on the plate because children are starving in Africa.
At the time, one of the greatest ironies to me is that we then get on the treadmills or buy expensive home equipment to burn all the fat we shouldn’t have been eating. Thereby, continuing the cycle of consumption and energy use.
Overeating and Direct Food Wastage Alternatives
Back in my 20s, during my unfortunate years of being legally tied to a despicable man, the wasband used to laugh at a particular quirk I had. Whenever we went out to eat, I would eat only what I wanted and not a bite more. But then, no matter how little was left on my plate, I would ask for a doggie bag, i.e. I would take the rest of it home.
He laughed at me for doing this for months, until it finally dawned on him that he was searching the fridge for food hours later and I was tossing my leftovers into the microwave. Then, he started taking his food home, too. This is one of the simplest ways to reduce food waste from restaurants, as a customer. Here are some others.
Buy Less Often
If you buy groceries every other week instead of every week, you’d be surprised at how much less wasted food you accumulate. In fact, during the early stages of the pandemic, I wrote about how reducing my grocery shopping excursions cut my grocery bill in half. Most embarrassingly, I still had everything I needed to eat.
Buy Perishables Fresh
There is a lovely lady I met in Mexico who convinced her gringo husband to move back to her home country for retirement. She tells me she buys everything fresh from the markets every day. So, she only purchases the items she needs for specific meals she plans for that day. They are retired and enjoy their daily trips to the local markets.
Support Local Farmers
Did you know that food waste begins on the farm? This did not start with the coronavirus and restaurant closures. Farmers have struggled to figure out what to do with their excess food for years. Some simply bury it or literally pour it down the drain. In some instances, farmers throw food away because they have physical deformities but are otherwise just fine. And, long before the Great Resignation, farmers often could not find enough people to harvest produce.
If you know a local farmer, choose him over your big-chain supermarket. Go to the farm and strike up a deal with the farmer. Depending on his needs, you could offer to take the funny-looking fruits and vegetables at a reduced price. After all, they taste the same! You could even offer to pick your produce yourself. Then, offer to pay by the pound. Some local farms will even take your weekly order and deliver it to you.
Do Not Overeat
I’m not telling people who love their seconds to go on a diet. I am saying that if you’re full and there’s still food on the plate, save it for later. There is no good moral, nutritional or eco-friendly reason to continue eating beyond being full.
Eat Your Leftovers
Quite often, people do bring home leftovers home and forget they’re there. Next time, keep it at the front and eat it as soon as possible. You could even add a note at the front of the fridge, so you remember to eat it before it goes bad.
When I was in college, I had guinea pigs. One of the things I loved about having them is that they ate the vegetable scraps I would otherwise throw away. I loved feeding them the heads of the tomatoes and carrots and they loved eating them.
Compost the Excess
When perishables perish, tossing them into the trash often seems like the best solution. Why not compost them? Then, you can add the compost to your lawn, your garden, or the plant babies you’ve been growing in your home. There are even companies that have mastered the process of harvesting the gasses produced by compost piles to provide cooking gas for your home.
All our lives, we’ve been told to eat up because people are starving. But, the truth is, our “eating up” is a big factor behind people starving. What will you do this year to change that?