Sunday, September 05, 2010

Wasting Away (4/30)

You are likely aware that "developed" countries waste a lot of food. Practitioners of 'dumpster diving' have known for goodness knows how long that supermarkets and restaurants have to throw out huge quantities of quite edible food, due to commercial practice or overly stringent health & safety regulations. It turns out that the amount of food energy wasted in this fashion is quite immense. Immense like "more energy than is extracted yearly in crude from the Gulf of Mexico"! And if you look at the cited paper, the authors consider their figure to be a lower bound for the amount of wasted energy.

When you start to think about it, this gets pretty scary. All that waste energy comes from - well, ok: it all comes from the Sun, which on any reasonable human timescale is effectively inexhaustable. Fine. But a lot of that energy (transport, processing) we obtain through oil, the superconcentrated sunlight that CAN and WILL run out (or diminish in yield significantly) during our lifetimes, or near enough to. It's one thing perhaps if that energy is being used to ferry us around, clothe us, feed us, deliver us videogames over the internet...but this is just straight-up waste. I guess one can make the case that composting ameliorates some of the damage, but I mean there are much more efficient ways of enriching your soil than with wasted food shipped from California or Mexico or somewhere else similarly far away. I feel a little hypocritical writing this now because I sure do waste food. I guess this whole "living on my own" business is taking me longer to learn than it ought, because stuff still goes bad in my fridge. I tend to pack up leftovers and I try to eat them quickly most of the time, but there's always the one or two dishes that fall through the net, as it were. I'm a bit of a compulsive worrier when it comes to food going bad, so if I'm on the ball I'll toss stuff that looks like it's going moldy...possibly before I ought. So there's my dirty laundry out for all to see. I am Loud, and I have a food wasting problem.

Talking to ELI some time ago, he mentioned that the mother of his girlfriend shopped "Parisian style", ie. buying food on a day-to-day basis. He didn't really see the value in taking that much extra time at the store as opposed to the more North American(?) weekly shopping trip. At the time, I had some semblance of an answer. I mean, you have the romance of a European way of living - as opposed to our evidently inferior ways, of course - as well as a constant procession of fresh(er) ingredients in one's cooking, rather than a roster of ever-squishier fruits and vegetables. Now I'm beginning to consider the day-to-day shopping model as a potential cure for my personal food waste, even if it does present a potential increase in my food expenses (buying in bulk being somewhat cheaper, on the whole). It's definitely wishful thinking that I can avoid developing some semblance of organization and responsibility with a lifestyle change that doesn't specifically nurture either, but I guess I'd rather do something sexy (can I call shopping for food every day sexy? I guess at this point I have exposed the extent of my elitism/europhilia) than something dull but effective.

It's at once good and bad that the waste here occurs at many levels. Being so widespread a problem means that no one will really want to step up to the plate if they think they can blame other people. On the other hand, there are a lot of angles for improvement. More care with perishable items in our homes; a greater emphasis on local agriculture; programs that redirect still-usable foodstuffs from supermarkets et. all to local food banks (probably contingent on some manner of legal reform). If you wanted to be particularly radical but don't have the patience for systemic change, you could even start feeding yourself on the spoils of dumpster diving (there are a lot of guides out there, written by people who actually do that. Trust them, not me).

The note on local agriculture is worth expounding upon, because such as it is there's a dearth of truly local fare in urban areas. You know, because stuff is kind of hard to grow on pavement and the soil is sometimes full of poison, etc. There are some interesting solutions, however. I've heard tell of restaurants with rooftop gardens, but most interestingly there is the concept of vertical farming. A vertical farm is essentially a hydroponic garden/greenhouse but in the size and proportions of an apartment building. It sockets pretty innocuously (even prettily) into your downtown core, and is probably 50 times more horizontal-space efficient (assuming you stop at 50 stories) than your average conventional farm. Besides having an actual food source which resides inside the city (so in case of serious emergencies lasting more than a week you're not all totally boned), it also does a few cool things: it drastically reduces transportation costs, it could re-establish the connection between people and their food that you really lose when it's all grown somewhere you don't see very often, and they'd probably be made of glass and mirrors and as a result quite pleasing (or blinding, depending on the time of day) to look at. On a much longer time-scale, the prospect of actually giving back some land to wildlife sounds rather refreshing, compared to dim-wittedly bulldozing it to feed our ever growing (and increasingly urban) population.

I will expound upon this idea of urban/vertical farming some more tomorrow, and I think I may concoct another pictoral how-to if anyone thought the last one was helpful. I also want to talk a little about how the wartime/postwar mentality of "clean your plate" sounds like good policy, but might unintentionally encourage overconsumption (even if it cuts down on wasted food).


No comments:

Some Rights Reserved

Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.