For over two years now, the global economic situation has caused a lot of folks a lot of hardship, and it has caused us all to take a step back. However, one positive thing to come out of all the upheaval is that it has placed a lot more focus – both in the media and everyday life - on exactly what we consume and how much we waste.
You probably already know that most families in the western world throw away a huge amount of food – most studies estimate that on average about thirty percent of the food we buy goes into the garbage unused. When I first heard this a little over a year ago, I was so shocked that I began to keep track of exactly how much food my own household threw away in an average week.
The result? I was shocked and more than a little bit ashamed. What I was discarding was just about the national average and frankly I could have fed at least one other person on it. Think of all the greenhouse gases being released from the food I was throwing away. And that was before you got to the issue of the money I was wasting – nearly £40 or about $60 - each week. That’s the equivalent of $3,000 each year. At least I was not alone, but something had to give. So I set about finding ways to ensure that my household wasted less food.
This was a daunting prospect. Most people today have very busy, unpredictable lives, and we shop accordingly. We buy lots of food “just in case”. The truth is that in the western world, full cupboards equal prosperity, comfort and abundance. In a world where nothing is sure, it is easy to buy into the illusion that full cupboards equal security. Supermarkets do have to share some of the blame for encouraging this. Buy one get one free and “Larger pack, bigger value” signs urge us to buy bigger, better, more. However unless you have a very big family, this isn’t always the best way to buy because it often leads to waste.
Like so many people today, I began to change the way I shopped and the way my family ate. I investigated smaller local producers and began buying only things I could not source elsewhere at the grocery store. Many of you may already have made these changes, but if you haven’t, some of the little things I did may encourage you to make some small changes that make a big difference.
Starting my own vegetable garden really helped. I learned to use what I had available in the garden on any given day instead of planning too far in advance. Sometimes it brought new meaning to the term “mixed vegetables” but they always tasted fresh and delicious. However, I cannot not feed my family just from the garden, so instead of buying the extra produce I need at the supermarket, I try to buy it exclusively from local greengrocers, farms and farmer’s markets. The fruit and vegetables I buy there taste better and they keep for longer in my fridge. Not only that but I spend less – a lot less. In the winter when there are not so many vendors at the market, I have an organic fruit and vegetable box delivered.
I only buy meat from my local butcher. Not only does it stimulate the local economy, but a good butcher (or farmer who prepares his own meat) is a great source of excellent quality, traceable meat. Mine keeps a list available of all the local farms he uses so I know the animals are being treated well. Plus I find I buy exactly what I need when I need it so there is no waste. Yes, sometimes quality costs more, but as we are not eating as much meat now for environmental and health reasons I prefer to buy less, but better quality. I’m not spending any more in total than I did before.
I source my eggs from a local farmer who sells at the farmer’s market. Not only do the eggs taste better and cost less but I can actually see the happy free range chickens who lay them when I drive past his farm – and the eggs cost a lot less too. Incidentally, I recently discovered that many people still buy battery-farmed eggs. In fact, in August this year the US Humane Society reported that nearly ninety-five percent of laying hens there are kept their hens in cages so restrictive the birds cannot even spread their wings. At least the EU is phasing out battery cages by 2012, but that is still a long time away – especially if you are a chicken. I have been buying free-range or organic eggs for a number of years and encourage you to do the same. Those of you who keep your own hens, I salute you! That is about as fresh, free range and environmentally friendly as you can get.
It was not easy at first, but eventually I found that a shift in both my attitude and how I shopped made a huge difference not only to our household economy but also to our health. I came to understand that that instead of filling our cupboards and fridges, we had to start thinking about quality over quantity. We needed to consider our food purchases carefully and think about where the food we eat comes from. If you haven’t already, I urge you to consider incorporating some of these ideas into your lifestyle now. By buying good food in reasonable quantities, shopping locally from local producers and by growing even a small amount of your own produce, you can make your household healthier and more environmentally friendly all in one go. Plus you could even save some money – and that is always a good thing. Small changes really can make a big difference.
Linking up with Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS.